mel and eddy

Lizzie Wofford as Mel and Tom Roberts as Eddy

Edifying Eddy

The Hub, Lichfield


Theatrical gems can be found in the most unlikely places; a classical violinist filling an almost deserted late night square in Nerja with magic; a cellist as beautiful as her music playing Elgar amid the crowds outside the Pantheon in Rome; and a play amid the rafters in a former church in the centre of Lichfield.

There can be few people who have not at least heard of Educating Rita . . . well this is Educating Eddy, or rather Edifying Eddy, to give Lichfield-based Carolyn Scott-Jeffs’ new play its Sunday name having its premiere this week at The Hub.

In this role reversal the teacher is Mel, played with a mix of intellectual confidence and real world living vulnerability by Lizzie Wofford while the pupil is Eddy, played, like Mel, by a local actor, Tom Roberts.

It is an even bigger reversal for Tom who played Frank, Rita’s tutor in a celebrated production of Willie Russell’s classic around the corner at Lichfield Garrick a few years ago.

Rita was a hairdresser but Eddy is a redundant Land Rover worker of 40 years who wants to be rich and famous. He is rough and ready, has probably never heard of PC yet has a strange puritanical streak in some areas, he doesn’t like even mild bad language for example, which makes you wonder if he wore ear plugs on the track at Solihull, but we will let that pass.

And he has disowned his daughter Emma because of drugs and drink, yet beneath his refusal to speak to her you can sense there is a mix of love and frustration, of helplessness that he could not help, that he has shut her out of his life but can’t stop thinking of her. He has also decided she is probably a lesbian as she is 27, unmarried and has no boyfriend – the tell-tale signs in Eddy’s mind.

It is a dilemma, and a feeling he had failed his daughter that perhaps prods him into action when the twenty something, unmarried and boyfriendless Mel’s problems start to emerge.

He arrives to start an MA as a bolshy, salt of the earth, working class hero, taking on the posh lot at Uni only because he wants to become a writer and that only to be rich and famous . . . with a house in the country, labrador and wife in the WI.

He has an inverted snobbery, a touch of production track sexism and you suspect thinks misogyny is an East European entry in to Miss World.

It is fair to say Mel and Eddy do not quite hit it off initially. Eddy is uneducated which makes him appear to have an IQ notably only for bringing the average down, perhaps best seen with his reference to the creative writing department’s aluminiums . . . or alumni as we what have us O levels might say.


Mel's nemesis in academia, a light with a life of its own

But as the pair struggle on through the course amid a broken chair in a cluttered office in a condemned building complete with dodgy electrics and a door lock that is merely decoration, we learn more about them as they learn more about themselves.

We learn that Eddy has a son who is intellectually challenged or whatever we are supposed to say these days, yet for all his macho ways he is the one looking out for his son, Kevin, not so much wife Jen, who works at Tesco’s.

We learn that despite her being his teacher, he has feelings for Mel, perhaps feelings that he has for his daughter, a daughter he couldn’t help, perhaps with Mel it could be different.

And Mel, she was a writer, a poet, but has put that aside to find a place in academia, taking on demeaning part time jobs to supplement her meagre income as a part time lecturer as she completes her doctorate.

Her relationship with her father is much the same as Emma’s with Eddy, and both she and Eddy have problems with relationships

Both perhaps will achieve what on the face of it they set out to do, but along the way we find they have both lost something, what they really wanted, their own voice in the world, and we leave them once more finding their own ways to be heard.

There are some fine comic moments, such as Eddy’s reading for Petruchio for the uni Shakespeare society, a performance that would have made him a shoe-in for A Midsummer Night’s Dream's rude mechanicals, and then there is his return after he had been on a screen writing residential course when he appears as a sort of middle aged Charlie Brown after a rough night.

It is a big ask for actors in a 100 minutes of so of a two hander but the pair not only take on the challenge and come out winning on the other side. We see the characters grow, we start to believe in them, feel for them, hope for them. Two fine performances in a thoughtful new play.

If there is a criticism, it a minor one, a touch of pedantics. We are never told the university of the play but even redundant Land Rover workers at the newest and lowest strata of universities (those formally World of Leather institutions as Private Eye would have it) would surely have to start with a BA and not leap straight to an MA, even in fiction.

Directed by the celebrated RSC director Nicky Cox, Eddy closes in Lichfield tonight but plans are afoot to stage it elsewhere. To 18-09-21

Roger Clarke


The Hub, Lichfield

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