Educating Rita By Willy Russell and The Social, Historical And Cultural Context Of Britain In The Late 1970's
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'Educating Rita' by 'Willy Russell relates to the social, historical
and cultural context of Britain in the late 1970's throughout the play
and this extremely strong and believable reference to these three
subjects contribute to a good piece of drama.
'Willy Russell' makes these references in everything, from the
smallest detail, Rita's hair colour to the extreme stereotyping of
each of the two classes. These experiences are based on 'Russell's'
own life and the character of 'Rita' is a mirror of him, because of
this it is a strong and realistic account of the 1970's. 'Rita' has
shared the same experiences as 'Russell' in both school and work, they
were both under pier pressure not to do well and school and would be
singled out if they studied.
Rita: "But studyin' was just for wimps, wasn't it? See, if I'd
started takin' school seriously I would have become different from me
mates, an' that's not allowed."
Because of this attitude to school, or the attitude school gave them,
both 'Rita' and 'Russell' ended up in a dead end hairdressing job, but
both of them decided they would change there life and both began to
break away. I think that because so much reference is realistic due to
the above, an audience of 1979 or 1980 when they play was shown would
have been able to relate so well to the characters, especially people
in there twenties or forties now because they would be able to
remember what it was like for them when they went to school or
university and they would be filled with past memories and emotions, a
sign of good drama, something that can evoke emotions.
During the play the characters of 'Rita' and 'Frank are the biggest
demonstration of cultural difference. Rita represents the working
class culture and stands for what they were, a class who strived to
escape their dead end jobs and make a better life for themselves,
Frank, on the other hand is the representation of the working class.
Although some might say he is a disgrace to his culture he is a
perfect example of the middle classes, someone who has it handed to
them on a plate and they take it for granted.
These differences are first noticed at the beginning of the play, in
'Rita's' opening scenes. She misses the ends off of her sentences that
are usually grammatically in correct; she speaks in restricted code.
Frank, the middle class man speaks in grammatically correct sentences
and also uses, elaborate code.
Rita:" It's terrible these days, the money, isn't it? With the
inflation an' that. You work for the ordinary university don't y '?
With the real students. The open university's different isn't it?"
Frank:" It's supposed to embrace a more comprehensive studentship
'Russell' uses this as a to portray the different classes, 'Rita's'
speech is used to represent the uneducated working class, this is
achieved through the half words, we would say don't you, and that but
Rita uses "don't y'" "an' that". Conversely Frank uses a more
sophisticated sentence and is grammatically correct. He uses more
interesting words and has a more extensive vocabulary than 'Rita'.
'Russell' uses this speech difference to bring humour to the play; he
does this about three or four lines into the play when 'Frank' tries
to ask 'Rita' her name.
Frank: "You are?"
Rita: "What am I?"
The conversation continues in the same manner and it is the speaking
at cross-purposes that brings humour to the conversation. 'Rita' takes
'Franks question literally and begins asking what she is so 'Frank'
becomes confused and starts asking what she is, so a simple question
of what's your name but in elaborate code confuses 'Rita' and if an
audience in the theatre didn't laugh then there is something wrong
because this line made me laugh! And it is the small snippets of
humour combined with other elements that earned 'Educating Rita' the
best comedy award in 1980.
A huge part of the social issues in the play is to do with working
class women's roles. As a girl left school she was expected to marry
young and have children soon after, that was the goal of life, but
'Rita' wants more and many things which happened at the time of the
play would have 'Rita' to do what she did and give choice to women.
The main one of these was the contraceptive pill, which was made
available to women at the beginning of the 70's. This gave a choice of
when to have children and 'Rita' uses this to stop 'Denny' from
getting her pregnant, because she wants a life of her own.
Rita: "I told him I'd only have a baby when I had a choice."
'Russell' almost uses 'Rita' to promote the idea to young girls that
they could have a life and make choices, this is also a good dramatic
technique because many young ladies/girls in the audience at the play
could have been thinking about what 'Rita' had achieved and think to
themselves that they could do that. Also all the boys knew that as
soon as they left school they were off to work in the factories day in
day out for the rest of there life's, so maybe the play could have
served as inspiration to men watching it as well.
Both 'Frank and 'Rita' are extremely stereotypical of each other as
well they both expect each other to act in a certain way. 'Frank'
seems to believe that the working classes are content with their
boring and predictable lives so 'Rita' sets him straight.
Rita: " I just see everyone pissed or on the valium, tryin' to get
from one day to the next. Y' darent say that round our way like cause
'Rita' explains to 'Frank' that just because he might be able to walk
past a pub and hear everyone singing it doesn't mean that they are
happy, it probably means they're to drunk to care and they only do it
because it's the only way to get through the day and go on with life.
'Frank' comes back with a stereotypical and purely ignorant line.
Frank: "Yes but there's nothing wrong with that, if they're content
'Frank' has completely missed the point and is still so naive as to
believe that, the only gaol and aim of a working class man is to get
as drunk as possible. He does not realise that this is just a show put
on to cover up the true feelings. So again 'Rita' explains that its
not all they want.
Rita: "But they're not. Cause there's no meanin'. "
'Rita' has to repeat herself just to get the message across to 'Frank'
that their life has no meaning and that the only time that they ever
had a meaning was during the war when material property and money
didn't matter and everyone was united.
This is 'Franks' interpretation of the working class and what's worse
is that 'Rita' sees the middle class as an amazing life, just because
they are educated. 'Rita' thinks that gaining an education will gain
her respect and a better life but what her and 'Frank' are both
ignorant of is that how similar the two of them are and that they both
want to escape their social hierarchy and be happy with themselves and
their life's. 'Frank' sees the working class life as an escape route;
down the pub all the time and the hardest choice of his life are which
lager to drink. He thinks he would fit in perfectly, I think he would
as well and he sees 'Rita' as the key, much in the same way that
'Rita' sees 'Frank' as her key to dinner parties, wine drinking and
intellectual conversations, something 'Rita' dreams of.
This dependence on each other leads to interesting and quality drama
and situations in the play, for example right at the beginning 'Rita'
depends on 'Frank' for everything and her language and essays make for
some hilarious answers and lines. For example the "do it on the radio"
answer is blatant, coarse humour and if you don't find this funny, you
should donate your funny bone to the hospital! It's called an essay
for a reason! But when 'Rita' gains in confidence we see a different
side to 'Frank' because he is needed less and less and when he finally
crack we hear what he really thinks.
Frank: " You know, Rita, I think that like you I shall change my nameâ€¦
Frank: " She wrote a little gothic number called Frankenstein."
This is a clever statement by 'Frank' and is explaining that he has
created a monster in 'Rita'; he only thinks this because he has begun
to loose 'Rita'. This is a big twist on the plot and brings the
audience to an interesting question, what happens now?
All in all it is my opinion that the play 'Educating Rita' is a great
insight into 1970's Britain and is extremely enjoyable and excellent
play for a stage production. Not just because it is good drama and
that 'Willy Russell' has created a comedy with serious underlying
choices but also due to the low budget of producing it, it only has
two characters an done set, simple but genius. The two hander style
works exceptionally well and by the end of the play I felt that I knew
'Frank' and 'Rita' extremely well and the single set creates a cosy
"patina" and gives the audience an entertaining and enriched
experience, so 'Educating Rita' doesn't make good drama. It makes