Willy Russell’s Educating Rita is one of the key plays of its time. We look at why it’s as relevant today as it was in 1980, when it was first performed…
Our production is very timely – Educating Rita is all about the transforming power of education. In these uncertain times, when arts budgets are under seemingly permanent threat and the value of arts education itself appears to be disputed in some quarters, it could hardly be more timely.
Its Manchester heritage – Willy Russell was working as a writer-in-residence at what was then Manchester Polytechnic, now Manchester Metropolitan University, when he wrote the play. No location is specified in the script, but it’s quite clear where the inspiration came from – right here in Manchester. Yet remarkably perhaps, it’s not been seen in the city for over 20 years.
The Bard – Educating Rita was first performed at the Royal Shakespeare Company Warehouse in London in June 1980. The production transferred to the West End and Willy subsequently won the prestigious Laurence Olivier Award for Best New Comedy. The rest, including a film, is history.
It’s very funny – The play is studded with glorious one-liners. Prior to becoming a full-time writer, Willy – who left school at 16 – was, amongst other things, a women’s hairdresser, a factory cleaner, folk singer, and a teacher. This experience of real life has been instrumental in so much of his work and writing.
The cast – Gillian Kearney, who plays Rita, is the genuine Liverpool article – there’s no voice coach required for our production! Philip Bretherton, who plays lecturer Frank, was an English student at Manchester University between 1973-77, so has drawn on that wealth of experience. Let’s see if any of his old lecturers recognise themselves in his portrayal of a world-weary university lecturer!