Educating Rita is a play which was written by Willy Russell in the late seventies. It is about a young woman’s determination to, “sing better songs” (p68). In this essay, I will focus on the characters, their motives within the plot and the setting of the play to explain how the opening scene of Educating Rita sets the scene for the rest of the play. Act 1 Scene 1 of Educating Rita, introduces the main characters, the setting and the essential ideas of the play, which in this particular play are cultures and personal relationships.
The play focuses on these two themes, the way that Frank, the university lecturer, and Rita, the literature student, change and influence each other, and, the big difference between the Characters’ cultural references and classes. As a result, the first scene in this play is an essential part of it; and will introduce us to its themes and all the information that will make the audience want to keep on watching. In this essay, I am hoping to understand and observe the play to be able to say if the opening scene does set the scene for the rest of the play or not.
At the very beginning of Act 1 Scene 1, we learn that the play is set somewhere “in the north of England” (p13), in a University. However, the setting is located more particularly with the help of Rita’s strong local accent which tells us that the play is most likely to be happening in Liverpool, Willy Russell’s hometown. The play is only set in Frank’s office. By doing this, Russell is able to concentrate more on the humour and the drama of the play.
It also enables the reader to focus on Frank and Rita’s developing relationship, and also the characters’ changes throughout the play, although other important events take place off-stage. This is also why there are no other characters shown in the play, but are just referred to by both of them, like Denny (Rita’s husband) or Trish (Rita’s Flatmate). He could also be doing this to show what it is like to take you out of your world, (the working-class for Rita) and put you in a completely different one (the middle-class), to show in more detail, the differences between the two classes.
There are several characters introduced in scene 1. These are Frank, Rita, and also other people who are being referred to by both of them, such as Denny, Rita’s husband, and Julia, Frank’s partner, although other characters are mentioned during the play. However, the audience gets to know Frank and Rita more than the others. The first character we meet is a major one. This one is Frank, a university lecturer. We learn a lot of things about Frank in Scene 1, his personal relationship, his class and his drinking problems.
Firstly, by looking at his behaviour when finding “jubilantly” (p13) his hidden whisky bottle behind books in the bookshelf, we learn that Frank is a heavy drinker and throughout the play, keeps “pouring himself another drink” (p55), which shows that he is alcoholic. Julia, Frank’s partner, shows efforts towards him when preparing dinner, and the way Frank replies to “a burnt dinner” (p14) clearly states that Frank’s present relationship is far from being perfect, and this reinforces his drinking problems. He has been married once and what irritates him the most is his inability to re-write poetry again.
Frank does not show much importance towards the Open University course, and only does it be able to pay for the drink. He seems to be doing it as a weekly activity instead of an important course and does not know what he is supposed to study on this course. Frank’s opinion towards a new student; “some silly woman’s attempts to get into the mind of” (p14), clearly shows that he does not enjoy teaching. I think that if he did enjoy teaching, he would probably say something along the lines of: ‘I have a new student coming and will be studying… ‘.
He also describes himself as an “appalling teacher” (p25) and shows a sense of incompleteness by solving all his problems by drinking. The audience receives a slightly negative image of Frank in the opening scenes but recognise him as one of the most important characters in the play. On the other hand, Frank does show some humour: “you just pop off and put your head in the oven. ” (p14), this makes the play a bit more humorous and makes the audience have less of a negative image of him. Rita changes Frank’s life. Later on in the play, she says, “A room is like a plant. ” (p77), this reflects Frank’s incompleteness.
The reason why I think this is that, from my point of view, his room needs fresh air, but there are obstacles in making this possible. The window “won’t bleedin’ budge” (p77) and the door gets stuck a lot. It is the same with Frank, he fails to attain a sense of completeness. However, when being moved to Australia, he gains some hope as things are “just beginning” (p104). The second character we meet is a major one too. This one is Rita, a literature student, and the other most important character of the play. In Scene 1, Rita struggles to come into the room because of the “bleedin’ handle” (p14) on the door.
Willy Russell uses the door metaphorically to explain how hard and painful it is for Rita to get an Education now, and also, all the decisions she is going to take, such as leaving Denny. We also learn a lot from the room, the fact that the room is full books shows all the knowledge that she is seeking to study but also how difficult this task will be for her. Rita does not feel in the right place, she feels “slightly out of step” (p24). She’s twenty-six, and she still does not have a baby, or, does not want a baby yet, instead, she wants to “discover meself first” (p24).
She wants to learn and enter the world of Academics in which Frank and the students she meets later in the play are. Like Frank, Rita’s relationship with Denny is not to its best. He is against the Open University course. He’s “blind” (p24) and does not want to accept that Rita wants to discover herself before building a family. She does not want to live in a nice, big house of the middle class like Denny proposes: “move off our estate an’ get a house out in Formby” (p25), but she wants to be in the middle class, in the ‘academic circle’.
She wants to speak and have a normal conversation about a famous poet with people like Frank. Later on in the play, she fails to attend Frank’s dinner party because she knows she will feel out of place there. Rita changes a lot throughout the play, at the beginning, she is nervous, uneducated and not confident enough, by the end of the play, she has matured and is able to make wise and informed decisions. The difference between act 1 and act 2 is that, in Act 1, it is more about Rita’s growing passion and development in the world of Academics and also in the breakdown of her relationship with Denny.
Act 2 on the other hand, is more about Frank, and the problem with his drinking habits, followed by his banishment to Australia for two years. However, we can see that as Rita gains more and more knowledge, and as she changes, she does not need Frank as much as in Act 1. In this first scene, Russell uses a lot of dramatic devices. To begin with, Russell does not tell straight away the reason why Frank, the university lecturer, is “hurriedly” (p13) replacing each book on the bookshelf, instead, he creates an element of suspense, building a narrative line, keeping interest in the audience’s eyes.
We directly learn that he is alcoholic, when he is desperately looking for his whisky bottle and also that he has a problem about it. Rita moves a lot in the opening scene, and this tells us a lot about her, just by looking at the way she acts in Frank’s office. Firstly, it shows she is nervous, she hasn’t been a student in a while and she does not know if she is going to make it or not. Secondly, it shows she wants to learn. She inspects everything around the room, she wants to know everything.
In the next scene, Rita is oiling Frank’s door. This shows how much effort she puts in wanting to learn on this course. Frank, in scene 2, keeps looking at his watch. This doesn’t only say that Rita is late, but also shows that Frank is waiting for her, indirectly, it shows that their personal relationship is starting to develop, now that Rita is starting to get into the course. Later in the play, Russell starts to show how much Frank’s drinking problem is increasing by making him drink more and more.