‘Educating Rita’ is a play written by Willy Russell about a 26 year old hairdresser, Rita, who tries to better herself by enrolling in the Open University in which she is taught by her new tutor, Frank. The story is one which shows the ever evolving relationship between the two and how they try to cope with the constant difficulties thrown up by their culture clash and their other problems such as Frank’s drinking and Rita’s marital difficulties.
The characters slowly adapt until the two reverse roles completely and become the mirror image of what they were at the beginning with Rita on a path to success and Frank in a spiral of self destruction. When Rita started out at the Open University, she was obviously very nervous but displayed it in a way which made her appear very forth coming and had an in-your-face attitude. This is shown by the lines in Act 1 Scene 1 in which Rita says: Rita: That’s what I do. Y’know when I’m nervous. This leads us to believe that, while she tries not to show it, Rita is worried, possibly even scared of going to see Frank.
However, Frank is not free from worries either. He seems to find Rita’s attitude very disturbing and it upsets his normal way of dealing with students. He finds that his references to people who he knows through his education fail to achieve their desired effect as Rita has no understanding of who they are or what they are trying to say. Rita shows this ignorance during Frank’s reference to Yeats: Frank: Do you know Yeats? Rita: The wine lodge? Frank: Yeats the poet It is this type of misunderstanding that continues throughout not only Scene 1 but right up until the end of Act 1.
However, from Act 2 Scene 2 on, Rita starts to understand more of Frank’s references. It had got to the point where Frank no longer needed to explain to Rita the ideas of the poem or play. He simply allowed Rita to form her own opinions. For example, in Act 2 Scene 3 the two talk about the poem, ‘The Blossom:’ Frank: It’s just, look, this passage about ‘The Blossom’ you seem to assume that the poem is about sexuality. Rita: It is! Frank: Is it? This short exchange not only shows that Rita can make up her own mind on things but it also starts a serious downfall in Frank and Rita’s relationship which I will discuss later.
It also shows that Frank is stuck in his ways and beliefs and feels that he has no reason to change them. This is a point Willy Russell plays on throughout the play. Unlike Rita, Frank does not appear to be on a road to success. He doesn’t like his job and his is almost constantly drunk. It appears that he has been like this for a while because in Act 1 Scene 1 he is talking to his partner, Julia as though this had been going on for some time: Frank: … Yes. Yes, I probably shall go to the pub afterwards. I shall need to go to the pub afterwards.
I shall need to wash away the memory of some silly woman’s attempts to get into the mind of Henry James or whoever we’re meant to be studying on this course… Oh God, why did I take this on?… Yes I suppose I take it on to pay for the drink… This allows us to see that Frank does have a drinking problem and that he is not in his profession because he enjoys it. He merely does it to pay for the alcohol he drinks. However, he does have some restraint from vices as he reveals to Rita that he tries not to smoke.
However, as the play continues, Frank slowly slips into a decline. It comes to a head in Act 2 Scene 3 where instead of drinking in private like he was instructed to by the governors of the university, he gets drunk during a lecture and is severely reprimanded for it: Frank: Pissed? I was glorious! Fell off the rostrum twice… They suggested I take a sabbatical for a year or ten… Europe – or America… I suggested that Australia might be more apt – the allusion was lost on them… As this shows, Frank appears to be on a path to self destruction.
This isn’t helped by Rita’s continued education and her appearing to get more intelligent. Combined with Frank’s moment of losing his job at the university, he loses Rita. In the first scene, Rita and Frank are still fairly new to one another. Frank is at first sceptical about the OU course and his new student. He doesn’t say much but instead studies Rita: Rita: Aren’t you meant to be interviewing me? Frank: Do I need to? Rita: I talk too much, don’t I? I know I talk a lot. I don’t at home This also shows that Rita acts differently to how she would’ve at home.
This suggests that she sees Frank as different to everyone else she knew. That view allowed Rita to start a different kind of relationship to that with her husband Denny. She shared all her personal problems with Frank as he did to her. This allowed for close, romantic moments between the two as they left opposite lives but still found a way to relate to one another. However, towards the end of the play, the relationship between the two breaks down. Nowhere is this more obvious that in Act 2 Scene 3: Rita (Angrily): What d’ y’ mean be careful? I can look after myself.
Just cos I’m learin’, just I can do it now an’ read what I wanna read an’ understand without havin’ to come runnin’ to you every five minutes y’ start tellin’ me to be careful. This begins to show that Frank has become unhappy with Rita’s learning and that he seems to have a problem with Rita advancing as far as she has done. Up until the end of the play, Rita and Frank are barely on speaking terms and try to avoid one another. Rita and Frank’s relationship manages to grow so much that they become good friends until it has the massive crash and goes into a state of not talking to each other.
This state of cold war ends as the two talk to one another once more at the end shortly before Frank leaves and the play ends. In conclusion, the comparison between Act 1 Scene 1 and Act 2 Scenes 2 and 3 show us that Frank and Rita managed to completely flip their lives around. However, the playwright also shows that not all changes are for the better as Frank loses his job and Rita becomes alienated from her family and community. So while Willy Russell shows that we must strive to better ourselves and our community around us, we cannot lose touch from it or believe that we are any better than when we started.