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Educating Rita


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A: Willy Russell Pf: 1980, London Pb: 1981 G: Com. in 2 acts S: Tutor's room in northern English university (Liverpool), 1970s C: 1m, 1fFrank, failed poet and unenthusiastic university lecturer in English, is earning some extra income by tutoring on an Open University (OU) course. His wife has left him, he is now living with a younger woman, and he cheers his desolate existence with copious amounts of alcohol. His first OU pupil is Rita White, a 26-year-old alert and voluble hairdresser, who has determined to improve her life by taking a degree. Slowly he teaches her formal education in which judgements have to be ‘purely objective’. Rita's husband becomes unhappy with her new enthusiasm, and when he discovers that she is on the pill, burns her books and eventually forces her to choose between her degree and her marriage. Rita becomes even more committed to her course. That autumn Rita has been to summer school, where she excelled. She has moved into a flat with a stylish new friend, works in a bistro, and plans a holiday with fellow students at Christmas. Frank is alarmed to see her slipping from his influence and begins to drink more heavily. Finally, the university authorities send him off to Australia. Rita comes to say goodbye; she now knows that education is not everything, but at least she now has a choice.

A: Willy Russell Pf: 1980, London Pb: 1981 G: Com. in 2 acts S: Tutor's room in northern English university (Liverpool), 1970s C: 1m, 1f

This witty and moving two-hander, made into a successful film with Julie Walters and Michael Caine in 1983, offers an analysis of formal education, and optimistically shows a woman succeeding in surmounting her deprived background to be able to make choices – an encouraging message that has successfully transferred to many cultures in the so-called Third World where women are demanding equal access to education.

Subjects: Literary Studies (Plays and Playwrights).


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Willy Russell (b. 1947)


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