Educating Rita is a stage comedy by British playwright Willy Russell. It is a play for two actors set entirely in the office of an Open University lecturer.
Commissioned by the Royal Shakespeare Company, Educating Rita premièred at The Warehouse, London, in June 1980 starring Julie Walters and Mark Kingston. The play was directed by Mike Ockrent. Geoffrey Sampson explains the title of Educating Eve: The 'Language Instinct' Debate as a deliberate allusion to Educating Rita.
The play follows the relationship between a young Liverpudlian working-class hairdresser and Dr. Frank Bryant, a middle-aged University lecturer, during the course of a year.
Susan (who initially calls herself Rita), dissatisfied with the routine of her work and social life, seeks inner growth by signing up for and attending an Open University course in English Literature. The play opens as 'Rita' meets her tutor, Frank for the first time. Dr Frank Bryant is a middle-aged, alcoholic career academic who has taken on the tutorship to pay for his drink. The two have an immediate and profound effect on one another; Frank is impressed by Susan's verve and earnestness and is forced to re-examine his attitudes and position in life; Susan finds Frank's tuition opens doors to a bohemian lifestyle and a new self-confidence. However, Frank's bitterness and cynicism return as he notices Susan beginning to adopt the pretensions of the University culture he despises. Susan becomes disillusioned by a friend's attempted suicide and realises that her new social niche is rife with the same dishonesty and superficiality she had previously sought to escape. The play ends as Frank, sent to Australia on a sabbatical, welcomes the possibilities of the change.
The play deals with the concept of freedom, change, England's class system, the shortcomings of institutional education, and the nature of self-development and of personal relationships. The play borrows from the George Bernard Shaw play Pygmalion, itself based upon archetypes from Greek myth.
The play was adapted by Russell for a 1983 film with Michael Caine, and Julie Walters directed by Lewis Gilbert.
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