by Willy Russell
, first performed by the RSC
in 1980. It was turned into a film
starring Julie Walters
and Michael Caine
in 1983. The play and screenplay
are certainly very similar, but far from identical
Rita is a hairdresser: she feels trapped by her situation (married to Denny who wants her to have a child. She refuses until she has 'found herself'). She decides the only way to escape is to learn about 'everything'.
Frank is a university lecturer; he has started to take students from the Open University (Rita: Degrees for dishwashers) in order to pay for his growing alcohol habit. He was married - but she left him (when she did, he stopped writing poetry). Now he lives with an ex-student who is (just about) prepared to put up with him.
Frank educates Rita - she says at the beginning of the play that you have to change from the inside: you can't just do it from the outside (this is one of the reasons for her being a hairdresser. People come in and want to look like Farrah Fawcett Majors. She tells them she's a hairdresser 'not a plastic surgeon' - one of the other reasons is that Russell was himself a hairdresser before seeking his own reeducation). By the end of the play rather than knowing this as an idea, she is able to put it into practice. And Rita sort of educates Frank (the 'Educating' of the title could be a verb, or an adjective). At the end Rita is free of Denny and the social trap she found herself in at the beginning. Frank, though, is going to Australia not - we suspect - because he really wants to, but because his drink problem was becoming embarrassing to his employers.
Russell then makes two points. Education is essential for the realising of potential (and his own background supports this idea); education, though, isn't everything. One must have drive, and spirit and a real desire to find what you want. Rita has it. Frank has lost it.
It's an excellent, funny and life-affirming play.