Educating Rita is a play written by playwright Willy Russell in the 1980s. Willy Russell appears to be from an educated social class but found a good basis for him to write “Educating Rita” from his own life.
Willy Russell, born in 1947,grew up in Liverpool, and was originally from a working class background and was expected to work in either the docks or a factory. But he knew from the start that he was going to be a writer; his ambitions were achieved against all odds as he became “educated” and over came social boundaries.
Educating Rita mirrors his life very closely; I think Willy Russell changes his main characters sex so as to make the change more poignant, as a women’s place in the later 20th century was still to be a housewife and the oppressed sex.This has been challenged during this period as an outdated view, and that women were every bit as capable as a man in the workplace. Educating Rita is a play that uses these contrasted views to its own uses and shows a working class woman proving that she can have an education if she is given the chance, and the means to do so.
The whole of the play takes place in just one setting giving the audience a closer and more intimate feel between the two characters as their relationship develops.
In “Educating Rita” the relationship between Frank and Rita is constantly changing throughout the play. In Act one we see them becoming closer and in Act two we see them pulling apart; this is due to the fact that Rita earns her independence at the end of the play. This is perfectly normal as Rita learns how to socialise with other individuals despite the social class barrier and gains confidence; this process is a complete role reversal as Frank is now relying on her. It is in some ways like a parent-child relationship because Rita’s character is naï¿½ve and innocent to begin with; she learns quickly and is soon independent. Frank doesn’t like Rita becoming mature and out growing him; like the process parents go through with their teenage child.
Rita’s character in the play is bright bubbly and loud, this covers up her insecurities on the inside, as she doesn’t know how to act. We can see this from her first entrance into the play in scene1. Rita and Franks first meeting in the play involved a rather dramatic and rude entrance by Rita who bossed Frank around and swore drawing attention onto her. The first words she said to Frank were “It’s that stupid bleedin’ handle on the door. You wanna get it fixed!” To the audience this language for a first meeting seems very inappropriate and informal this may seem shocking to them, as it is the first impression she makes on her tutor. This shows the audience how little Rita knows how to act in formal situations; usually the audience would expect her to act quiet and polite.
Rita’s use of dialect and basic vocabulary suggests that she lives in the poorer parts of Liverpool, but that doesn’t make her any less able as a student. However the audience at this time would think so because the play was a comedy and Rita’s character was intended to amuse the audience with her inappropriate comments like “look at those tits”. Rita’s constant swearing and rude language is different from the language and manners of the other students making her different and more appealing to her tutor Frank as he sees her as original.
Franks character in the play is cynical and bitter. He has had many failed relationships, which imply that he is emotionally stunted, and drinks to keep his problems away. He grew up from a quite well educated background but prefers not to bother teaching; he knows this and quite openly tells Rita on their first meeting “I’m actually an appalling teacher”. Frank seems to have lost all enthusiasm for anything since his wife left him 15 years ago; Frank tells Rita that he has “stopped writing altogether”; Frank used to be a poet who used to write about love but it all changed when his wife left him. He’s stuck in a dead end job and the only thing that can make him feel better is alcohol.
Frank takes an instant liking to Rita in the beginning of the play, as they are both different in each of their ways. Frank is a “mad piss artist” who wants to chuck his students out of the window. Rita wears different clothing compared to the other students; she smokes and drinks with Frank. Rita speaks in dialect unlike most students and she doesn’t fit in as she is older than most of them, which make her feel like an outcast. She often looks at the students out of Franks window wishing she was “free” like them but she doesn’t understand that you can still have problems in the higher social hierarchy too.
As Rita settles into her new routine she begins to experience problems with her husband, Denny. This domestic trouble marks the start of her relying on Frank for comfort and support that she didn’t get from her husband in the play. This also illustrates the theme that while men may think they are the better sex, women can still achieve something; is also goes to prove that coming from a working class background doesn’t make you any less capable to learn and achieve something. However with all this extra support coming from Frank, Rita still only sees him as a tutor and a friend. Frank on the other hand is sexually attracted to Rita because he makes flirtatious comments such as “Right now there’s a thousand things I’d rather do than teach; most of them with you, young lady…” This suggests that they are fairly close in order for Frank to be confident enough to make a flirty remark to Rita.
Frank seems to need Rita in Act one; he seems her as something new, vibrant “a breath of fresh air” Their relationship at this point is very social in Act one, as they both need each other. Rita needs Frank to tutor her and to also support her and give her guidance. Rita is very adolescent at first and looks to Frank for answers because he is “educated”. Rita isn’t too dependent on Frank at first but with the domestic difficulty at home she is pushed towards Frank for comfort and self-confidence. She admits to Frank “In this room I feel safe, with you Frank” This shows the audience that they have more than a professional relationship; this quote implies that they are friends because friends always feel safe amongst each others company when they look for comfort and support.
During this period frank has stopped drinking, or at least cut down. This shows that Rita is having an influence over him, and that she is giving him something to care for in life other then just drinking his life away. The audience would think that by being with a partner he would already have this, but the relationship is one of mostly of duty rather then any love. You can tell that Rita means a lot to frank; just by the way she has had this effect on him, compared to franks partner, who doesn’t really bother with him anymore.
This delicate equilibrium that is Frank and Rita’s friendly relationship cannot last for long as he teaches her how to survive in the world. The consequences of his actions has a long term effect on their relationship. Rita begins learns how to make new friends and this causes her to gain confidence and tear away from Frank for support and guidance. This new found independence leads to Rita being late for classes as she was “talking to some students down on the lawn” which in turn causes Frank to be jealous that he isn’t the centre of her universe anymore. Rita also meets her new friends in summer camp during an interval between Act one and Act two.
The interval between Act one and two symbolises the disintegration of their relationship and the changes taking place in Rita. I think Willy Russell created an interval on purpose for impact on the audience because the changes taking place in Frank and Rita after the interval will be very obvious to the audience.
It is also symbolising the end of Ritas dependance on Frank; Frank is quite upset about their distance we know this from the quote “There was a time when you used to tell me everything”. Franks reactions also reflect his feelings of turmoil as he constantly criticises Rita with sarcastic remarks such as “It’s not – not wrong. But I don’t like it”
This change in Franks character and actions also tells the audience that he is now a dependant on Rita; their roles have completely reversed since the start of the play. A good example of this is when Frank goes searching for Rita; “you were so late I phoned the shop”. This is also a reversal of their earlier relationship when Rita always used to come to him. Franks reaction to this is bitter with jealousy which drives Rita further away from him. The climax of their disagreements is a huge argument which involved Frank telling Rita his bitter views of what she had become to be “educated”. “Found a better song to sing have you? No – you’ve found a different song that’s all – and on your lips it’s shrill and hollow and tuneless” This shows the audience Franks thoughts of how Rita has changed for worse in her quest to change social classes and to be accepted.
In Act two scene five Rita’s reply to Franks insults are “You like to keep your natives thick, because they still look charming and delightful. I don’t need you” This destroys the very little self confidence that Frank has left and drives him into a downward spiral of alcohol abuse.
Despite the huge argument in scene 5 there is still a bond connecting Frank and Rita together in the play. In the next couple of days Rita comes to Franks office to apologise, this shows the audience that she still cares about him even though previously she was swallowed up with self pride and arrogance. Frank accepts the apology because he obviously still wants to remain friends with Rita or possibly more because he asks her to come to Australia with him. “Why don’t you – come as well?”
I think Frank and Rita have truly learnt a lot from each other throughout the course of the play. Rita learned from Frank one of the most important highlights of the play; Independence. Independence has given Rita the knowledge of how to support herself and most importantly of all, choice. “I’ll make a decision. I’ll choose.” Rita has beyond doubt gained choice in her decisions in life by being independent; because when you are an independent individual you don’t need others to help you make your choices.
Rita also learnt to be an individual through Frank’s harsh but honest criticism of her weak personality in Act one and Two. We evidently see this in the play as she drops the pretentious “Rita” side of her. “I dropped that pretentious crap as soon as I saw it for what it was.”
Another important lessons Rita learned was gaining confidence. With all the support and comfort from Frank, Rita has learned to have confidence in herself again. It is crucial for Rita’s character to have confidence in this play because without it she would have “packed it in” and never completed her course or be able to be an independent woman.
These new changes in Rita are reflected in her new personality in Act two as she sees the world through different eyes. She has become very mature, and can now see through people’s pretentiousness. She used to look up to her friend Trish, yet has realised she is not what she seems “I thought she was so cool an’ together… she spends half her life eatin’ whole foods an’ health foods to make her live longer, an’ the other half tryin’ to kill herself”
Frank learns a lot from Rita as well, he learns to appreciate things from another perspective “Assonance is getting the rhyme wrong”.
This relationship with Rita has also made Frank see that he should be more independent too because people change for good and for bad, despite Rita’s criticism Frank also learns from this. He learns how to improve himself into a better person and change his flaws as Rita pointed out that he was too “jealous”.
Their relationship at Act two scene seven is similar to the one they had in the middle of the play but the difference is now they are both truly independent individuals, they like and only need each other out of choice.