Educating Rita, directed by Max Roberts, at Salisbury Playhouse until Saturday on an extensive national tour, features the fascinating interplay of two diverse characters in academia.

Stephen Tompkinson is the brilliant, jaded tutor, and Jessica Johnson plays Rita, his student who has exchanged her domestic routine as a wife and hairdresser to embark on study for an Open University degree.

The superb set, a room almost overwhelmed by bookcases, is designed by Patrick Connellan. The impressive door, which tends to stick, is almost a metaphor for the gradual emergence of understanding - as Rita eventually oils the hinges! Drummond Orr is the lighting designer, and Sam Newland supervised very appropriate costume design, with Emilie Carter as wardrobe mistress.

Initially, Rita has no idea of how dramatically her ambition to study may transform her life, but the emergence of possibilities proves amazing. The encounter between Rita and her university tutor, Frank, is remarkable. Frank is a frustrated poet whose alcohol dependence is fuelled by bottles secreted behind his books. His early scepticism of Rita's academic potential is eroded inexorably, until eventually Rita, not Frank, has the luxury of life's choices.

Quirky incidental music and lighting mark the passage of time.

This new production of Willy Russell's perceptive, award-winning comedy, which has won much acclaim on stage and screen, is a sheer delight that won prolonged applause at its first night in Salisbury on Monday.

Stella Taylor