Educating Rita (1980) by Willy Russell.
Commissioned by the Royal Shakespeare Company and first staged in the small Warehouse Theatre.
It was soon performed by other theatre companies around England and the world and by 1983 was voted the fourth most popular play on the English stage – in a list including the works of Shakespeare.
Educating Rita is a play featuring two characters (Frank and Rita) and a single set (representing Frank’s office in a University in the North of England).
The central theme of the play is one woman’s journey and transformation through her education. It is a “Cinderella” story in that it is about a woman’s transformation. It is also partly a love story – but one in which the love which develops between the two characters remains platonic. At the end of the play rather than kissing Frank, Rita gives him a haircut.
It is not only Rita who changes throughout the play. She also transforms Frank – her passion for her studies makes him rediscover his love for his job and also inspires him to make changes to himself, in particular his drinking habits.
Other themes in the play include the British class system andthe nature of the British University system.
The play is clearly heavily influenced by George Bernard Shaw’s classic Pygmalion (1913).
The play was made into an Oscar winning film in 1983 which expanded the action beyond the play’s single set and showed other characters who are merely referred to in the original text.
Educating Rita is not meant to be read like a novel or a series of poems. It is a theatre script intended to provide all the information required for a cast and crew to stage a production of the play. Willy Russell wrote it as a set of instructions which would then allow an audience to sit in a theatre and witness and experience the journey of Rita and Frank over a period of approximately two hours.