An Analysis of Willy Russell's Play Educating Rita

Willy Russell wrote this play and he was born near Liverpool. After leaving school, he trained to be a printer even though he did not want to do it. However, when he came to do his exam, he failed. Then he trained to be a hairdresser. He did this for six years; he didn’t understand it or even like it. He still bought his salon, but when it was quiet, he would do what he liked doing best. This was writing! He mostly wrote songs, to begin with, but also tied to writing books, poems, and sketches.

This made him decide that he wanted to do O-level English Literature. The play ‘Educating Rita’ was written in 1985, however, in my staging of the play, I would make it a modern play, and this is so that people in the audience could relate to it more. For example, the younger people could relate to Rita going through a student’s life. The older members of the audience would be able to relate to Frank.

To make my staging ideas for ‘Educating Rita’ interesting I need to make them entertaining and informative this will keep the audience involved. However to make sure that the audience does become involved I’m going to make it as though they are looking through the window that Rita is always relating to. ‘I love this room. I love that window’. This is the first time Rita mentions the book in the play. We get her feelings about the window from this, however, Frank feels different about the window because he says ‘l sometimes get the urge to throw something through it.

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To me, this makes the window sound very big, with only certain panels that will open. We must make our ideas fit in with Russell’s description of the set and characters. If we don’t do this, it might not fit in with the rest of the play.

I must dress Frank and Rita in appropriate costumes that match their personality features and how they come across to the audience. Therefore, I think that in the beginning, I would put them in costumes that make them seem like opposites. Frank will be dressed in a formal brown suit with a white long-sleeved shirt and a plain matching tie. The tie, however, will be worn loosely, as though Frank can’t be bothered. Frank doesn’t come across to me as a man who has many accessories. Nevertheless, I think it would be entertaining for the audience if Frank had a hip flask. He wouldn’t have to use it as we could say it was empty. Later on in the play, Frank’s appearance will have changed. This is because I think he changes for Rita therefore his costume would be much brighter. He would still wear the same sort of clothes except they would be brighter, this may make him seem more approachable and more like Rita, or it will make him seem as though he has become more of an alcoholic and he can’t match his clothes properly.

Rita will be dressed very differently from Frank. However, as the play is set nowadays it will be a modern play. Therefore, as Rita is only 26, and is still quite young, she needs to be wearing modern clothes. In the beginning, Rita will be wearing a pair of jeans with some trainers. She will also be wearing a plain t-shirt with a long coat. Rita will be cluttered with accessories. She will be wearing a lot of jewelry and will carry a big handbag. It will contain, her make-up, her purse, her phone, and her cigarettes. Plus Rita Mae Browns book ‘Rubyfruit jungle’. I think Rita carries this book around with her for two reasons. The first is because she thinks that it’s fantastic. The other reason is that it makes her feel secure and as though she knows. It is like her bible! I will show this by shining a spotlight on the book every time she mentions it. However, by the end of the play, the light will be very dim because this isn’t her favorite book she doesn’t think that it’s a very good book. By the end of the play, she will be wearing very little makeup. She will have a natural hair color with random dreadlocks. She will be wearing a floaty dress with jeans on underneath, and instead of the big handbag, she will carry a rucksack. Overall, she will look like a hippy.

The main feature of the stage would be the window. This is because it would make it so the audience were looking through the window, when Rita mentions the window she would be looking out towards the audience. The lighting in the play would change depending on the character’s feelings. For example, in the beginning, the only source of light would be coming through the window and a very dim light over Frank. As Frank and Rita get to know each other better, the light would get brighter but as they drift apart, it would go dim again. They each would have their spotlight which would show their individual feelings.

Franks’s opening monologue is very important because this is the first point in which we meet him. It shows him looking down at a bookshelf of classic books, this sort of pulls wool over our eyes as we think he is looking at the book when in fact he is looking at a bottle of whiskey. I would like the audience to have a drunken impression of this man; I will try to show this by giving him a voice of a man who ‘shifts a lot of booze’. 

Having found the whiskey Frank would go to a small table by the door to pour himself a glass of alcohol. He would be stood up in a way as though he is waiting at a bar; he will be sort of slouching. When the telephone rings Frank will be startled and unnerved as though he has been caught doing something wrong.

When Rita enters, she will be like a ball of energy as she will be enthusiastic and eager to learn. Her attitude towards the door being jammed would be amusing to the audience because she begins lecturing him on getting it fixed. It is like a role reversal, where she becomes the teacher and he is the pupil. This tells us that she is eager to get things done, unlike Frank who just can’t be bothered. Russell provides us with a contrast between Frank and Rita. However, this contrast turns against them later on in the play, this is because Rita feels as though she can’t be bothered with Frank and he feels desperate to see her.

Rita would move around the stage with bursts of energy, within the first few seconds of her arrival she is looking at the picture on the wall. This constant movement makes her character seem full of life and fascinated by new things. Like when Frank is looking for a bottle of whisky, he pulls some books off the shelf and Rita is straight in there asking questions about the book.

Rita is both physically and mentally restless this is because she is wary of the students and being at the university. In my opinion, all, this energy is just a cover-up for her shyness and her real self because as soon as Rita has made some friends and has taken in some more knowledge she becomes more mature and calm. Her movement changes in the play because she becomes floaty and like a hippy. As she becomes more involved with English literature, she changes her opinion of things, like her favorite books and what she likes to do. However, this change would also be shown through the change in clothes and accessories she has.

In the opening scene of the play, Rita makes Frank feel stuffy and over formal by the way she is questioning him about whether he swears and what he thinks of the picture. She is testing him and he sort of loses control of his position as a teacher as she pesters him to answer her questions.

RITA: ‘Do you think it’s erotic?’

FRANK:’I think it’s beautiful

RITA: ‘I didn’t ask y’ if you thought it was beautiful.

This shows Rita pestering him to answer, however, Frank regains his control!

In the play, you could use the picture of the nude religious scene to highlight the differences between Frank and Rita. This is because Rita isn’t afraid to say what she thinks about the picture, she thinks it’s erotic. However, when she asks Frank about the picture he coughs, which shows his embarrassment.

Frank takes everything for granted, like his girlfriend Julia. She has made his dinner, but when she rings to ask him where he is, he gets angry. This is because he wants to go to the pub but Julia is trying to make him feel guilty about her having dinner in the oven. However, Rita is the opposite of this she is open and considerate. She is not afraid to be herself. ‘Y’ don’t mind me swearing do y’?’ This shows her being herself but also being considerate of the people around her. This affects Frank later on in the play because he sort of changes and tries to be considerate towards people.

The personal teacher-pupil relationship is established between Frank and Rita early on in the play. I think this is because Rita tells Frank everything. I think this personal relationship is important to her because Frank understands how Rita wants to be because she wants to be like him. However, her husband Denny doesn’t understand this and doesn’t accept why she wants to be like this. He shows this to her by burning her books, this pushes her closer to Frank. Frank could show that he admires Rita through his body language. For example, he could use open body language, which would show he is willing to listen. 

The opening scene of ‘Educating Rita’ prepares us for the rest of the play because it is when we first get to meet the main characters, Frank and Rita. We get to know what they are like. At the beginning of the play, Rita is a nervous, cocky young woman who knows nothing about literature. Throughout the play, she becomes someone who acquires a superficial knowledge of the play. Frank on the other hand doesn’t develop that much. He is disillusioned and cynical at the start his only real progress is downhill. By the end of the play, he doesn’t even have a job. Many important themes are opened up, Franks’s alcoholism, and Rita wanting to know everything. Rita wants to be part of the educated class, going to the theatre so she sort of envy’s Frank because he is educated.

Russell humorously shows the wide gap in culture between the two characters. I’ll have to learn it all, won’t I? Yeh. It’s like y’ sit there, don’t y’ watchin’ the ballet or the opera on the telly an’-an’ y’ call it rubbish cos that’s what it looks like? Cos y’ don’t understand. So y’ switch it off and say that’s fuckin’ rubbish.’ This shows that Rita comes from a working-class culture, which she has grown to despise as she feels it holding her back. Frank on the other hand inhabits a middle-class academic world in which literature is seen as important. Rita is determined to reach the middle-class academic world and she sees education as the way to achieve this. At this point in the play, Rita cannot discriminate between literature and popular fiction because she doesn’t know enough about literature to do this. Frank should react to her references to popular culture with great interest because Rita is telling him about something he doesn’t know much about. It is like swapping roles.

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An Analysis of Willy Russell's Play Educating Rita. (2022, Aug 06). Retrieved from

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