WILLY Russell not only creates unforgettable characters, he also propels us on a journey with them, though their trials and tribulations and the development of their relationships.

in Educating Rita, Stephen Tompkinson and Jessica Johnson, as Open University lecturer Frank and his eager student Rita, are perfectly cast.

Tompkinson is the world-weary, disillusioned, hard-drinking academic into whose world hairdresser Rita explodes, burning with a desire to be educated.

They handle the subtleties of the changing relationship adroitly, from dependence to co-dependence to independence.

It’s a sort of love story without romance or sentimentality and Russell is the master of the hilarious one-liner.

Johnson gives us a moving portrait of a woman growing in confidence and sophistication, with hesitations along the way, as she finds herself suspended between the restricted working class world from which she is escaping and a new world of enlightenment. She conveys an empathetic mix of fear and exhilaration.

Tompkinson has impeccable comic timing and the kind of face that needs no words to express his emotions. He shows us a man awakened from lethargy by his extraordinary new student and then hurt when his teaching proves so good she grows away from him. But it’s not as simple as that and the changes of emphasis are skilfully handled.

As a bonus there is a particularly appealing guitar soundtrack between scenes, but I couldn’t discover from the programme any further details.

You won’t see a better production of this timeless comedy.

Jo Bayne