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Rita by Willy Russell
When the play was written there was a still a cultural divide between
the uneducated (as in no higher education) working class and the
cultural and educated upper class but higher education was slowly being
madeavailable to the masses.
This was partly due to Open University (OU) with provided a university
education to those who normally would have not been able to go due to
employment or the fact that they might feel they wouldn't fit in, like
Rita, because of the cultural differences.
Rita feels she needs an education to fill her life, as she knows
that something in her life is not right and so she turns to the part
of a life she doesn't have -education and knowledge of culture- to
fill the gap.
However as we find out this is not necessarily what she is missing,
but in her search for an education she finds 'a new Rita', she even
changes her name back to Susan. Susan is Rita's real name, however
when she started OU she changed it to Rita after Rita Mae Brown,
someone who she thinks writes literature, but in fact writes "pulp-
fiction" stories, because at this time she thinks all books are
literature- this shows the cultural difference.
The play Educating Rita by Willy Russell gained great popularity
especially during the early eighties. There has also been a movie made
from it starring Julie Walters and the more famous Michael Caine. As
so often the case, the movie was more elaborate with additional
scenes, some of which were spoken of or retold by the actors in the
play. The movie also included several actors while the play only
featured two, Frank and Rita. In this essay I am going to explore how
the film illuminates parts of the text when performed on stage.
Although most of the details are small and subtle, they have a great
impact on how the story portrayed. The movie offers much more background
information on other characters and events that are important to the
The play is much more restricted in the sense that a great many things
are bound not to happen on stage, especially as there are only two
characters. In fact nothing taking place outside Frank's office can be
seen by the audience. All action is then confined within the stages four
walls. When Frank invites Rita to his home for dinner in the play the
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they already know that whatever happens will not take place before them,
but will be retold.
The movie is several extra scenes. Some of these scenes are in the play
retold by the actors and some of them are not there at all. Scene three
in act two begins with Frank cursing, "Sod them-no fuck them! Fuck them,
eh, Rita?" Neither Rita nor the audience have a clue as to who or what
he is referring to. As the dialogue progresses they audience find out
that he is upset because the students reported him since he had been very
drunk while giving his last lecture. The stage audience never get to see
the actual scene where this happens. In the film the audience are treated
to Frank staggering and slurring in front of the class. However the stage
audience are not given a fair chance to make an assessment whether they
accept Frank's behaviour and side with him, or if they think it serves him
right to be reported.
Furthermore, I feel that this enhances the way how Frank acts when he is
not with Rita, but with the other students, whom he doesn't like, and doesn't
try to like. In Sc.3 Act.2 Rita asks Frank if he will be sacked and Frank
tells her "For dismissal it'd have to be nothing less than buggering the
bursar", although this is funny at the time, the film illuminates this when,
in Sc.7, Act.2. (or thereabouts as it is only mentioned in the book), Rita
walks in on Frank packing away his books, when she asks why he says he was
being sent away to Australia, Rita replies, "Did y'bugger the bursar?"
"Metaphorically." He replies. In the film you see Frank very drunk standing
outside the bursar's window, shouting at him - whiskey bottle in hand-until
he falls asleep on the lawn of the university. This is very effective on the
film, and helps you build up the idea of Frank when he is drunk.
In addition to this what is very effective is how the film shows Frank in
the lecture hall, while drunk, and although he admits to being drunk, he
in fact says he couldn't teach them if he were sober, and he tells Rita "I
might have fallen off, my dear, but I went down talking-never missed a
syllable- what have they got to complain about?" He seems to hate teaching
the students so much he feels he must be drunk to teach them- this of course
is not the case.
The fact that the stage audience meet with only two characters in the play
is limiting in the sense that a lot of information is told from only one
point of view. Denny, Rita's husband strongly opposes her spending time
on education. He wants her to have a baby and become a housewife and
throughout most of the play he is trying make her quit what she is doing.
In the play Rita tells Frank that Denny has burnt all her books, and again
the action is retold. Although Rita makes it sound bad, when it is seen in
the movie we actually get to see the anger and frenzy of Denny, which gives
a much more clear background and perhaps a deeper understanding of Rita's
conflict with her husband.
In the play Rita talks about sitting in the pub while her family and Denny
are singing along to a song on the jukebox and then her mum starts to cry
and says "Surely there are better songs to sing", I feel this is a turning
point for Rita, that is never really shown in the staged play, it does however
seem very significance when seen in the film, where you see Rita and her family
in the pub, and then in another scenes you can compare it with what Rita sees
when she invited to Franks house-party, which in the play you only hear about
her being invited to and then the discussion afterwards when Frank asks her
why she didn't come.
Also in the film you see Rita beforehand where she is trying to decide what
to wear, and she uses the mirror to picture herself as an 'educated' person,
but see that really she lost and she feels like a half-caste - neither
educated or working class- this is also a turning point for Rita when she
decides to become more cultured and to live a life like Frank.
These parts of the play show an under-pinning irony, where Rita wants what
Frank has, Rita's experience is deeply rooted in her working class background,
she thinks that being educated and cultured is when "[She's] got a room full
of books. [She] knows what clothes to wear, what wine to buy, what plays to
see, what papers and books to read." (Sc.5 Act.2). Frank however says to this
"Is that all you wanted? Have you come all this way for so very, very little?"
Rita says that although it is little to him, for her it opens up new
opportunities, Frank refers back to when she is in the pub, wondering if
there is a better song to sing and he says, "Found a better song to sing?
No- you've found a different song- and on your lips it sounds shrill and
hollow and tuneless."
The Irony in this is that Frank has what Rita wants and Rita thinks she
will be happy with this, but Frank - even with all his culture- is still
unhappy. She realises that there is something she doesn't understand, that
in a way she is not free. She wants to change, wants a better way of living,
but doesn't really know how to achieve it- this is why she is doing an OU
course. She rejects her working class origin and changes her name.