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Educating Rita tours the UK with Stephen Tompkinson as Frank, and Jessica Johnson as Rita.


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Frank (Stepe=hen Tompkinson) in the chair

Frank and Rita relaxing

Jessica Johnson sitting down

All 2019 rehearsal photos by Seamus Ryan / Theatre by the Lake
Production photos:
Robert Day

Jessica Johnson as Rita and Stephen Tonkinson as Frank

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Jessica Johnson

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Educating Rita
2019 & 2020

A new 40th Anniversary 2019 Tour starring Stephen Tompkinson as Frank and Jessica Johnson as Rita.

David Pugh & Dafydd Rogers and Theatre by the Lake have announced that a major new stage production of Willy Russell's EDUCATING RITA will tour the UK in 2019. Starring Stephen Tompkinson as Frank, and introducing Jessica Johnson as Rita, the play will be directed by Max Roberts.

The play was originally commissioned by the Royal Shakespeare Company and played at the Warehouse Theatre, London in 1980, starring Julie Walters and Mark Kingston. Julie Walters reprised her role in the BAFTA, Golden Globe and Academy Award-winning film opposite Michael Caine.

Stephen Tompkinson’s theatre work includes Spamalot, Rattle of a Simple Man and Arsenic and Old Lace in the West End, Cloaca and A Christmas Carol (Old Vic), Art and Tartuffe (national tours).Cast Rita, Theatre by the Lake 2019

Director - Max Roberts
Designer - Patrick Connellan
Lighting Designer - Drummond Orr
Sound Designer - Dave Flynn

A Theatre by the Lake and David Pugh & Dafydd Rogers co-production.



Educating Rita 2019



Minack Theatre is a unique venue, perched on the cliffside near Lands End in Cornwall. Its global reputation has grown since its creator Rowena Cade first set out to create the setting in 1932 with over 250,000 annual visitors to the site until COVID closed all UK theatres in March. So it was wonderful to visit it for the first time to see David Pugh's production of Willy Russell's brilliant comedy Educating Rita about a kooky Liverpudlian woman, Rita, seeking to improve herself by discovering the joys of poetry, books and plays under the tutelage of ageing alcoholic tutor, Frank. On tour when the pandemic shut indoor theatres it became one of the first titles to open again in an outdoor venue as soon as the restrictions lifted it easily broke box office records as the public rushed to enjoy both the return to live theatre and to experience the spectacular setting.

When you are guided to the socially distanced seating with cushion in hand an hour before the start time with a wary eye on the clouds overhead in case the threatened rain starts to fall you immediately begin to sense the dramatic theatrical location. The waves from the Atlantic crash on to the rocks that form the backdrop to the small stage with the cliffs and sand of Porthcurno bay in the distance and an occasional seagull overhead it is magical and must have been perfect for its first production of The Tempest. However, the same backdrop is a little distracting for the much more intimate story set in a university lecturers small office and present the two actors with a constant challenge of the wind blowing their long hair and the pages of the books they are studying. 

Equally the challenge for the actors is that they are recreating two characters made famous by Michael Caine and Julie Walters in the 1983 film in perfect casting. Stephen Tompkinson (known for his TV role in Ballykissangel, DCI Banks and Wild at Heart) plays Frank and Jessica Johnson plays Rita. You sensed that Tompkinson seemed to be battling the elements slightly over emphasising his words and constantly making sure he weighted down the papers. Johnson too struggled at times with her Liverpudlian accent and was always in a rush with multiple costume changes in this episodic structure. The script has been stripped back to a ninety-minute running time without an interval to minimise social contact in the audience.

However, now of these issues matter as it is just wonderful to be back in a live theatre watching two very good actors doing their very best to entertain an expectant audience. Rita is a lively enthusiastic student endearingly seeking to improve herself and create options for herself in her life and we warm to her and her efforts to learn. Frank is a world-weary former poet existing in his university life on the hidden bottles of alcohol that dull rather than enliven his artistic senses. He gradually sees the potential of Rita and we are left hoping he will change not just his hair cut but his ways as Rita completes her course. The gap in classes in society feels like it has narrowed over the years since this was written but the recent controversy over exam results suggests that the poorer still struggle to get the same life opportunities as the better-off children. Like Rita, it is to be hoped that those who genuinely make the efforts do get their just rewards. 

The sound quality against the noise of the waves and wind is satisfactory although seated in the rear section A, high up on the cliff face you do have to concentrate hard to hear every word and struggle to see their facial expressions in the way you would indoors. However it is such a joy to be back watching live theatre and the Minack theatre and David Pugh deserve every success, and a big box office to recover the losses from being closed for most of the season. The show does go on regardless of the rainfall ( only the occasional storm warning stops the action) and the long trek down to the UK's most westerly point is definitely worth the effort. - Nick Wayne


An unflappable duo braved the elements in Willy Russell’s comedy drama

Arriving at the Minack theatre, I am more than thrilled to be back at a live performance, but less than sure that this particular play will work here. Educating Rita is set in a northern, redbrick university – specifically, in the stuffy office of an English lecturer-cum-erstwhile minor poet. This open-air amphitheatre clings to a Cornish cliffside, a wide, blue horizon stretches beyond its wind-scoured stage.

Isn’t Willy Russell’s 1980 hit comedy better suited to a venue such as Keswick’s Theatre by the Lake, where this production opened last year, under Max Roberts’s direction? The contrast between this site and the fiction is as great as… well, as the contrast between the erudite, irascible Frank and his new, eager mature student, Rita, a hairdresser with no qualifications enthusiastically embarking on an Open University course.

Enter Frank: long, wispy hair, lashing across his face, hinders his search for the whisky bottle hidden on his bookshelves. Frantically fluttering papers threaten to fly from his desk; he grabs at glass weights to hold them down. Rita blows in, makes to take off her coat: a gust almost rips it from her back. Stephen Tompkinson and Jessica Johnson respond deftly to such unpredictabilities, cleverly adapting them to their characterisations.

Tompkinson uses the wind’s buffetings to intensify our impression that Frank is flailing desperately to take control of his job, his love life and his drinking; that, as a poet, he is trapped under the weight of his own defeated expectations. Taking a tight grip on her coat, Johnson guides it along the air current and loops it firmly on to a hook, her gesture emphasising Rita’s determination not to be dictated to by circumstances, to take charge of her life.

A gull swoops over the stage just as Rita is telling Frank that Chekhov’s The Seagull is a “dead sad” play. Before us, two people are making choices that limit or expand their horizons. This is, after all, a most appropriate setting.

The Minack was built on the 1930s dream of Rowena Cade. Chester’s Grosvenor Park theatre, which opened in 2010, is the dreamchild of Andrew Bentley and Alex Clifton and forerunner of the more permanent Storyhouse arts centre. The dreams of all three were realised because they connect with our aeons-old shared longing for the particular experience that is live performance – a magic merging of people, place and presentation....

Although Educating Rita comes to the end of its run at the Minack today, producer David Pugh is aiming to take the production on a 40th anniversary tour.

The Guardian – Clare Brennan

Broadway World Review: Click Here

The Minack Theatre doesn't need my recommendation to be a success. Renowned - even outside of theatre circles - as being the most beautifully unique performance space in the country, people travel for hours just for a glimpse of it, with the production itself often becoming secondary to its setting. Luckily, in this case, the quality of the play in question more than matched the beauty of its surroundings.

My recent visit as a first-timer to this much-celebrated space was to see Educating Rita - a truncated version of the David Pugh production that was due to tour the country, pre-Covid. I wasn't there on a press trip, I was there purely as a punter, desperate to achieve a long-lived ambition to visit the Minack, and to see Stephen Stephen Tompkinson perform live (big fan). So, is this going to be a traditional review? No. Much like the Minack myself, Educating Rita is already a critical success, and the show is totally sold out. Instead, let me take you on a journey of the post-Covid Minack experience, complete with highly uncool, emotionally fuelled gushings. Brace yourselves.

Let me confirm any rumours you may have heard about the Cornish weather - it is insane and utterly unpredictable. As many advised me, you need to go armed with anoraks and jumpers and sunglasses and shorts and woolly hats and plastic ponchos for good measure. As we were guided into the Minack car park by a very cheery attendant, the weather was decidedly grey - not too chilly, but there was a whiff of rain in the air which I was blindly refusing to acknowledge.

The standing queue began to form in the small car park directly outside the theatre entrance, with several staff on hand to ensure that we queued in a snake-like fashion, using the car park markings as guidance for social distancing. The information shack in the car park was open, serving snacks and refreshments, and it also acted as a relocated gift shop selling a limited selection of merchandise.

Upon reaching the check-in desk, we were given information about the one-way system inside the theatre, and asked to clean our hands with the sanitiser provided. We obliged, and as we turned the corner to see our first glimpse of the Minack in all its glory, the sun suddenly emerged and the sea began to sparkle as if diamonds were dancing on the swell. The grey had disappeared, and it was like we were in our own little micro-climate. What witchcraft IS this?! I will forever swear that it was magic.

Sadly, the indoor cafe and exhibition centre were closed, but with the beauty of the botanical gardens to explore, it didn't feel like we were left wanting. The Terrace snack bar was open - which is nestled in between the raked seating areas - and remained open throughout the performance, too, so there were plenty of opportunities to refuel.

As we wandered through the gardens to the first usher (it felt SO good to encounter an usher for the first time in six months...all hail FOH staff!), we were checked in again and guided to our row by a different usher, who allocated us our 'seats' on the row. Each row doesn't have specific seat area markings, but under usual circumstances (or if you're from the same household/bubble), each one can fit six to seven people.

As I was there with one person from my bubble, we were sat at the far end of the row, and told that if anyone else was placed in our row, it would be no more than two people and they'd be at the opposite end. It all felt very controlled and safe, and it transpired that no one else sat on our row, so we had incredible amounts of space. Every other row was left free to ensure distancing was observed, so there was at least a metre between us and the people in front and behind us.

Even if one hasn't been to the Minack, most are familiar with the much-photographed views of the stone-carved stage nestled with the epic backdrop of Porthcurno Bay. But there is nothing like being there in person. We've all talked a lot recently about the value that online theatre has delivered to us during lockdown, and debated how it may have a future alongside traditional theatre. That remains a relevant and important discussion, but deep down we all know that a live, in-person experience can deliver something far more special, and the Minack is the finest example of that.

It's tempting to spend the whole time taking photos, but there is value in just letting yourself sit with what's in front of you. With every seat in the theatre offering a more beautiful view than the last, there is surely no audience member who would be disappointed. During the performance, it's essential to let the eye wander at times and observe the sea as it brightly ebbs and flows (no dolphin sightings for us, sadly!), to take in the sweeping coastline...and as the sun sets and the stage lights come up, the mood shifts from excitement to a kind of spellbinding tranquility. There's something about being by the sea at night that evokes a contradictory sense of serene foreboding, which is rather affecting and made my heart beat a little bit faster.

But let's get onto the production in question, because although it doesn't need my rave review, it's sure going to get one. Educating Rita depicts the journey of a middle-aged professor called Frank, who is enlisted into his first Open University tutoring experience. Rita, a working-class woman in her thirties, is his first student. His highly cerebral yet slightly shambolic existence clashes with Rita's unaffected manner and worldly views at first, but over time they both open each other's eyes, and hearts, to new ideas and experiences.

In this Willy Russell production, Stephen Tompkinson brings a sardonic wit to the intellectual Frank - he's an unhappy and disillusioned drunk but he knows it, and is likeable in his self-deprecation. Jessica Johnson has a tough job as Rita, with epically long and rapid monologues, delivered with such pace that it feels like she barely takes a breath for 90 minutes. Her handling of this material is impressive, and she has you immediately in the palm of her hand.

Despite this production losing around 18 minutes from its original run time, nothing in the narrative feels wanting. Speaking to producer David Pugh, he explains how this transition came about:

"The idea to move the production to the Minack came about when I heard that they had made their own enquiry about doing their own production of 'Educating Rita'. So I called up Zoe [Curnow, Executive Director of the Minack], who I know well, and asked her if it was true, and that I had a production of it ready to go.

"When we did the numbers at first, they just didn't make sense, and I didn't want to take the risk...but before I knew it, I was on a train down to Cornwall, and within a few hours we'd done the deal! Willy was the first phone call I made from the Minack, and he worked with the director to reduce the run time and remove the interval. Hopefully, audiences agree that there aren't any obvious gaps."

Indeed, I felt that the deepening relationship between Rita and Frank felt authentic, and the time jumps actually gives the piece a nice pace. My only requirement for longer scenes would purely be so that it wasn't over so quickly. The set design has also been scaled back heavily from its original intention, with simple, unending rows of books forming a charming backdrop to the action.
The Minack's stunning setting can be a curse as well as a blessing, though, as Pugh elaborates:

"Finding a way to produce shows right now isn't easy, but we have to give audiences and investors confidence that demand is there and that we will survive. I tweeted about driving around Cornwall buying out all the clingfilm to wrap our thousands of books that form part of our set - I think if anyone touched our set at this point, it would just crumble! My stage manager and I also went on a mission to buy hundreds of paperweights, because the paperwork that Rita writes on kept flying all over the place. The rain isn't the biggest problem, it's the wind - and we've got to have two different types of sound mixing and various radio mics to use depending on the weather. We just make a decision each day which we're going to use."
Speaking to Pugh about the risk of producing theatre in this environment, he has a very clear view - it's absolutely necessary:

"We are completely buzzing, because we are working. It's as simple as that. The figures are tight - we will break even as long as we don't have to cancel more than 2.5 shows - but we're keeping people in work and that's what's important. In fact, we are the only play that's currently performing on stage in the UK right now, and I'm proud of that.

It's been a joy to be able to produce as I should produce. The reaction from everyone involved in creating this piece, as well as the audience, has been very special, and I think it can give us all hope."

Hope. Isn't that exactly what we're all craving right now? Being perched on the edge of the country and sharing this unique experience with my fellow patrons was a very unifying and intimate experience. I felt more connected than I had in a long time - to strangers, to the natural beauty of our shores...and to my precious theatre community. It filled me up in a way that nothing but theatre can, and that's in equal parts due to the friendly theatre staff, the superb cast, the brave creatives, and the enchanting magic of the Cornish coast.

BROADWAY WORLD - Caroline Cronin




Willy Russell spawned a very charming monster when he wrote his Pygmalion for the Thatcher age 40 years ago. As it outsmarts its way into middle-age, Russell’s play remains a wise and witty inspiration, as working class hairdresser Rita’s leap into boozy Open University lecturer Frank’s book-lined study becomes a beacon of hope.

In Rita, after all, is the bright and brassy epitome of a generation of common people with ideas beyond their station. Like the gobbiest of revolutionaries, she manages to gatecrash a world of books and intellectual aspiration, where an unhappy marriage and a job that bores her were previously the only future on offer.

In Max Roberts’ revival of a production first seen at Theatre by the Lake, Keswick, Jessica Johnson’s Rita is a vivacious human dynamo in search of enlightenment, who reignites a fire in Frank enough for them to become accidental kindred spirits. What follows is a bittersweet tale of intimate equals in a platonic love story in which both parties open each other up to endless possibilities beyond their lot.

Rita’s gradual transformation is marked by Sam Newlands’ costumes, as she moves from what looks like half-price rail of jumpers to the student uniform chic of dungarees and head-scarf. Stephen Tompkinson’s Frank, meanwhile, remains permanently corduroyed and terminally unironed.

Like the best books Frank throws Rita’s way, however, wisdom and experience are double-edged swords. Tompkinson’s performance in particular is laced with ennui beyond Frank’s avuncular attitude towards Rita, whose own getting of wisdom happens almost too fast in the loss of her common touch.

In this sense, a sadness pervades beyond the surface humour as Rita learns to fly. Four decades on since they first appeared, with everything that’s happened in the world, one wonders what Rita and Frank did next. Wherever they ended up, the great learning had already begun in earnest.

HeraldScotland - Neil Cooper




Three standing ovations met the cast of Educating Rita when it opened in Barnstaple…

The classic comedy drama is at the Queen's Theatre until Saturday, March 7 as part of its 40th anniversary tour.

It stars Stephen Tompkinson (Alan Banks of television's DCI Banks fame) and Jessica Johnson as Rita.

It was just a brilliant production, very professional and a superb cast consisting of just the two actors, with the action all set in Frank's study.

Although it is the 40th anniversary year this is the first time I have actually seen Educating Rita and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

It sees married hairdresser Rita enrols on an Open University course to expand her horizons and subsequently encounter university tutor Frank.

He soon finds that his passion for literature is re-ignited by Rita, whose technical ability for the subject is limited by her lack of education, but whose enthusiasm Frank finds refreshing. The two soon realise how much they have to learn from each other.

It is very funny in places too, with the audience responding with plenty of laughs.
Stephen Tompkinson is very good as the alcoholic professor Frank, while Jessica plays the part of Rita very well and has some great one liners.

The cast seemed genuinely surprised to return to the stage twice for two further standing ovations and perhaps not what they expected in a regional theatre.

NorthDevonGazette - Sue Spear




Cheery 80s music greets the crowd filing into Eden Court’s Empire Theatre for Educating Rita. The curtain is up. A dimly-lit, naturalistic set of a study with an imposing desk and floor-to-ceiling books sets the scene. Nothing out of the ordinary for an academic context, but the loving attention to detail is touching: every picture above the fireplace is hanging a little squint. All is not well: a subtle stroke of stage design genius.

Stephen Tompkinson is not one of the country’s most loved stage actors for nothing – he inhabits the space as the dishevelled academic Frank, whose drinking habit forces him to commit to Open University tuition after hours. By contrast, Jessica Johnson’s ‘Rita’ (real name Susan, but she is re-inventing herself as someone much more glamorous) is loud, brash, awkward and a little fake. Grimacing and gesturing, she can’t help but irritate the audience a little, and surely, that is the point: We judge her, just like Frank judges her.

Despite two very capable performances, Willy Russell’s script is the real star of the show. Witty and tight, it sends up the notion of self-improvement and social mobility, self-satisfied arrogance, and ironically even the study of literature itself. Some lines are laugh-out-loud funny, but at its best, the script delivers wry observations we recognise as universal. When asked why his partner left him, Frank replies: “I like her enormously. It’s myself I’m not too fond of.” Much of the evening’s humour derives from this, and yet by the end, there is an explicit and implicit acknowledgement that betterment is possible, that education matters and that we’d do well to recognise that we can learn from anyone.

The two actors accomplish a lot in a little over two hours. The exceptionally wordy and complex script is delivered between them alone. There is little movement without words and all scene changes and props are dealt with without stage-hands. In essence, the play works due to a number of key reversals and shifts: A central reversal in status takes place as Frank realises that, increasingly, he needs Rita more than she needs him. There is a shift in accent, in appearance, in movement (increasingly subtle) in Rita’s character, just as Frank becomes more unhinged. Their relationship, and consequently the mood of the play, oscillates between easy banter, confused stand-offs and heart-wrenching honesty, before returning to humour again.

Is it perfect? Not always. The Rita of the opening scenes is more caricature than character – a directorial choice which grates a little – and clarity is sometimes lost in the quickfire exchanges which may have benefited from a pause or two.

But is it good? Oh my goodness, YES!

THE wee REVIEW – Barbara Henderson




It has been almost forty years since Willy Russell released Educating Rita, and the world was introduced to Rita a working-class Liverpudlian and Frank her alcoholic Open University tutor. The story of Rita, sick of the banal chit chat of the salon she works in enrolling on a literature course only to find herself confronted with the world of academia and feels she can’t fit in there either, is a general idea seen over and over in theatres loosely in shows such as Pygmalion. So, with this story reaching its fortieth year, the key question would prove to be: does it stand the test of time?

Set entirely within Frank’s office, the play allows its two actors to really explore the characters through a series of episodes in their lives as they both develop and change. Jessica Johnson’s Rita is loud, opinionated, and sometimes rather grating for the early part of the play, but it quickly becomes evident that this is a careful choice made in order to allow Rita to develop as a person as time goes on. Johnson brings Rita to life in a way that makes the audience grow to love her, without ever compromising the roots of who Rita is, or her razor-sharp wit.

Stephen Tompkinson’s Frank is the perfect complement to Johnson, as he begins the play as gratingly arrogant and brings nuance, vulnerability, and heart to the character as the audience gets to know him better. Tompkinson goes so far as to change physically as the play progresses, becoming increasingly dishevelled with mannerisms to match as more and more bottles are revealed on the bookshelves.

The single set for this show is kept simple; it is after all just Frank’s study. But the careful choices made by Patrick Connellan mean that it is an accompaniment to the characters, without at any point taking focus from them. The large windows looking down of the campus serve as a reminder of what Frank hides from and Rita reaches out to, while the bottles littered among the classics mirror the complexities of Frank’s inner turmoil.

When it was written, Educating Rita discussed the social classes, culture, and choices available to the people of the time in a manner which resonated with those watching. Now, forty years later the show feels just as fresh, and relevant, with a point to make and a reason behind every line. Thanks to exemplary performances from Johnson and Tompkinson, this show givens the audience an interesting and intelligent debate on both art and class, while bringing with it wit, humour, and heart.



It might be 40 years since Willy Russell wrote his hit play Educating Rita, but this heart-warming comedy has weathered the decades and the latest production to come to Norwich Theatre Royal proves it is now a timeless classic.

Jessica Johnson plays Susan Rita White, the Liverpudlian hairdresser who hopes to improve her lot in life through the Open University.

Her counterpart is crotchety tutor Frank, played by well-known television star Stephen Tompkinson, who increasingly seeks solace in a bottle of whisky to deal with his own disillusionment with academia and the disappointment of his frustrated career as a poet.

Playwright Russell was nominated for an Oscar for his screenplay adaptation of Educating Rita, bringing in scenes with extra characters who are only mentioned in the stage version.

But even for avid fans of the well-known film, there's something wonderful about seeing this story stripped back to its original form and distilled into a two-man production focusing solely on the interactions between student and lecturer in his university office.

Some of the best-known lines from the film appear, but they are brilliantly delivered and still have the power to amuse, and there are plenty of laughs from the sparky dialogue.

Tompkinson has spoken about how the role of the cantankerous Frank was a part he had always wanted to play, but previously he had felt too young. It was only when he crossed paths with Johnson and she said he would make an amazing Frank that the 53-year-old realised he was now the right age to step into Michael Caine's big shoes.

And both actors do a fine job of taking on the much-loved characters made famous by Caine and Julie Walters on the silver screen, making them their own.
Johnson gives a vivacious performance as a Rita who can barely sit still at times because she is so fizzing with energy.

And Tompkinson's Frank is chaotic and likeable, despite his alcoholism and cynical view of life.

There's a reason this play won an Olivier award when it first debuted in London's West End. And with Russell himself heavily involved through the rehearsal process, this production is a fine successor.



Willy Russell has gained a reputation as a great writer of roles for women – ‘Shirley Valentine’, ‘Blood Brothers’ and, of course, his 1980 hit play ‘Educating Rita’. His background as a hairdresser and a teacher came in handy when creating what has become something of a modern classic. The original stage production and subsequent film catapulted Julie Walters into the public consciousness and the success of the play sealed Russell’s reputation as a playwright.

The story of a young woman looking to an educated older man to help her improve herself, is, of course, not an unusual plot – Shaw’s ‘Pygmalion’ encapsulates it brilliantly as does the musical of that play ‘My Fair Lady’. ‘Educating Rita’ considers a number of issues, not least, access to education, and, on the way, provides an interesting advert for the Open University. At the heart, there is a love story here. Nothing overt, but it is there, and it is really rather tender by being unspoken.

Any two-handers rely on crisp dynamics and onstage chemistry and this production delivers a terrific duo in Stephen Tompkinson as the tutor Frank and Jessica Johnson as Rita/Susan, his student. Tompkinson completely captures the weariness of a man who lives off his failure as a husband, lover and poet and relies on excess of drink to get him through. Meanwhile Johnson is wonderfully excitable as the fish out of water who becomes so at home in the world of academia. The development of Rita over the story gives the actress a really interesting challenge and this is well achieved here, as we see her become the teacher, to the extent of sitting behind the desk while Frank, fighting his deterioration, plays second fiddle.

Patrick Connellan has created a lovely set with books everywhere – and plenty of bottles of booze hidden behind them. Still set in the early 1980s there is appropriate props on show and a period soundtrack. Though the feel of the play may seem a little dated, any attempt to modernise would be ill-judged.

Max Roberts directs with a tight rein but allows the great humour and tenderness of Russell’s script to shine through – the final hug which Rita gives to Frank – an action not to be found in the script – is a move that just brings a sense of closure on the relationship. 

‘Educating Rita’ is a delight, a thorough delight, and with two first-class performances, you won’t see it performed much better.

Cormac Richards



Educating Rita, directed by Max Roberts, at Salisbury Playhouse until Saturday on an extensive national tour, features the fascinating interplay of two diverse characters in academia.

Stephen Tompkinson is the brilliant, jaded tutor, and Jessica Johnson plays Rita, his student who has exchanged her domestic routine as a wife and hairdresser to embark on study for an Open University degree.

The superb set, a room almost overwhelmed by bookcases, is designed by Patrick Connellan. The impressive door, which tends to stick, is almost a metaphor for the gradual emergence of understanding - as Rita eventually oils the hinges!

Drummond Orr is the lighting designer, and Sam Newland supervised very appropriate costume design, with Emilie Carter as wardrobe mistress.

Initially, Rita has no idea of how dramatically her ambition to study may transform her life, but the emergence of possibilities proves amazing. The encounter between Rita and her university tutor, Frank, is remarkable. Frank is a frustrated poet whose alcohol dependence is fuelled by bottles secreted behind his books.

His early scepticism of Rita's academic potential is eroded inexorably, until eventually Rita, not Frank, has the luxury of life's choices.

Quirky incidental music and lighting mark the passage of time.

This new production of Willy Russell's perceptive, award-winning comedy, which has won much acclaim on stage and screen, is a sheer delight that won prolonged applause at its first night in Salisbury on Monday.


A GOBBY hairdresser and a demotivated, alcoholic tutor have a lot to teach each other in a two-hander at Salisbury Playhouse this week.

Set in 1980s Liverpool, Willy Russell’s Educating Rita is a story of class divide and wanting to better yourself.

Fed up with her working-class Liverpudlian roots, uneducated Rita is desperate to ‘sing a better song’, enrolling herself onto an Open University literature course.
Middle class academic Frank could have been a respected poet, but has descended to a less-than-willing tutor, preferring to drown his sorrows in a bottle.

Jessica Johnson’s Rita exudes positivity and enthusiasm. Her performance becomes increasingly engaging and moving as the play progresses. She commands the laughs from the audience as she barrels into her tutor’s office each week with enlivening wit.

Stephen Tompkinson portrays the self-loathing academic Frank with appropriate morosity and humour.

The two characters both have lessons to learn and find a mutual respect and admiration for each other.

Directed by Max Roberts, the fast-moving play is entirely set in Frank’s study.
The set, designed by Patrick Connellan, consists of a mahogany desk, leather chairs and bookshelved walls - providing plenty of space for Frank to hide his booze.

It’s an inspirational play with an underlying message that with education comes choices. And at the end of the play, we find Rita in a position to make her own life choices.



Set in the neon hazy days of the early 1980’s Educating Rita tells the story of Rita, a hairdresser who wishes to broaden her knowledge and better herself. She enrols on an Open University course where she meets her new tutor Frank. Rita is witty, energetic and desperate to soak up all that Frank can teach her. Frank has failed to be a famous poet, failed at his relationships and has become disillusioned with the world of teaching so turns to drink to see him through the day. However they hit it off from the start and begin to teach each other lots of things aside from literature. 

The whole play takes place inside Franks university office, full of books that hide his numerous bottles of booze, mahogany wood and piles of paper. This works beautifully as all focus is upon the growing relationship of the two. The only hint of an outside world is whatever tale Rita has to tell as she bursts through the office door and whatever she can pry out of Frank. From demanding husbands to trendy hip students.

I was concerned I would not take to Jessica Johnson’s Rita having previously adored Julie Walters version but I was very wrong. I loved her equally. Jessica plays the loud, opinionated and energetic Liverpudlian wonderfully. Watching her character grow into the woman she becomes despite all hurdles she comes across was a pleasure to watch.

Jessica’s character was beautifully match with Stephen Tompkinson’s Frank. His pomp self importance was often quickly cut down by Rita and we began to see his softer vulnerable side as he enjoyed seeing Rita grow but concerned she was losing her true self and maybe even falling for her a little they bounce off each other perfectly.

An absolute delight of a play that not only pulls at the heart strings but is profoundly funny.

5/5 stars

Fairypowered producations - jo gordon



WILLY Russell not only creates unforgettable characters, he also propels us on a journey with them, though their trials and tribulations and the development of their relationships.

in Educating Rita, Stephen Tompkinson and Jessica Johnson, as Open University lecturer Frank and his eager student Rita, are perfectly cast.

Tompkinson is the world-weary, disillusioned, hard-drinking academic into whose world hairdresser Rita explodes, burning with a desire to be educated.

They handle the subtleties of the changing relationship adroitly, from dependence to co-dependence to independence.

It’s a sort of love story without romance or sentimentality and Russell is the master of the hilarious one-liner.

Johnson gives us a moving portrait of a woman growing in confidence and sophistication, with hesitations along the way, as she finds herself suspended between the restricted working class world from which she is escaping and a new world of enlightenment. She conveys an empathetic mix of fear and exhilaration.

Tompkinson has impeccable comic timing and the kind of face that needs no words to express his emotions. He shows us a man awakened from lethargy by his extraordinary new student and then hurt when his teaching proves so good she grows away from him. But it’s not as simple as that and the changes of emphasis are skilfully handled.

As a bonus there is a particularly appealing guitar soundtrack between scenes, but I couldn’t discover from the programme any further details.
You won’t see a better production of this timeless comedy.




Melissa Blease reviews Willy Russell’s Educating Rita starring Stephen Tompkinson and Jessica Johnson, on at Theatre Royal Bath until 8 June

June 1980: the UK was in the grip of a major recession, urban riots dominated the headlines and Educating Rita – commissioned by the Royal Shakespeare Company and written by Willy Russell – premiered at London’s Warehouse theatre. And the critics went crazy…

“It’s a masterpiece examining the concept of freedom, and England’s class system, and the shortcomings of institutional education, and the nature of self-development!” screamed one. “It’s an au courant Pygmalion, based on archetypes from Greek mythology!” yelled another. And quietly, in the background… “it’s just a play about a girl who wants to be a different kind of girl,” said Russell. And, almost four decades on from when a mouthy hairdresser first crashed into a university professor’s office on a quest to become ‘a different type of girl’ to the one she was, Russell’s masterpiece remains as vital, relevant and engaging as contemporary theatre can be.  

In these attention-deficit days, it isn’t easy to keep a two character/one set/150-minute drama captivating throughout. But David Pugh & Dafydd Rogers/Theatre by the Lake’s latest touring production of this enduringly popular revival offers a masterclass in how a really, really good script, two really, really good actors and a really, really good director can make tricksy devices, sensory brace-yourself soundscapes or shock tactics redundant.

As a result, modern day theatrical thrill-seekers who don’t believe that a static, bookshelf-lined set containing little more than a big office desk and a couple of picture windows (through which we can’t see any kind of view) can possibly be a promising backdrop for any kind of attention-grabbing action are about to have their perceptions seriously challenged. While those who think that contemporary analysis of behavioural boundaries, social influence and sociological perceptions of the role of women in the 1980s/1990s cultural landscape began and ended with Pretty Woman need to think again.

Okay, so when Rita first appears, she’s wearing the full-on, clichéd working class woman’s uniform du jour (‘du jour’ being 40 years ago, remember): tight skirt, high heels, push-up bra, the whole shebang. But jaded university professor Frank’s image is equally stereotypical too – and Stephen Tompkinson fits the role as easily as he wears the garb that instantly suggest careworn professor, frustrated poet, jaded academic and wannabe alcoholic: you can almost smell last night’s whisky emanating from his baggy, crumpled clothes; you just know that his ragged grey hair reeks more of yet another disappointing evening down the pub than Pantene.

As the drama rolls along, Frank’s camouflage of arrogance slips off to reveal the vulnerability he’s trying so hard to hide, while his ego turns out to be as fragile as his tenure at the university he’s worked at for way too long; ultimately, Tompkinson delivers a first class performance. 

It’s Jessica Johnson, however, who deserves a doctorate for bringing Rita to buoyant, motormouth life. Exuberant, sharp, loveably lively and thoroughly convincing as the girl-who-wants-to-make-good, her comic timing is superb, her charm congenital rather than clichéd, her attitude and delivery authentically Scouse (and you can take this last endorsement from someone who knows all too well how ‘authentically Scouse’ rolls).

As Tompkinson and Johnson take us on a whistlestop journey through a year(ish) in the lives of two ostensibly disparate characters, the pace never drops, the melodrama never gets mawkish, the authenticity of the situation never wavers. We never know how either of the pair’s lives unfold past the final (subtly moving) scene, but one thing is certain: Rita is far more credible than Russell’s Shirley Valentine, and Frank far, far less syrupy than either of his Blood Brothers. 

Intelligent and funny, sincere and gregarious, Educating Rita is a play for today that must never be allowed to become yesterday’s dissertation.

THE BATH MAGAZINE - Melissa Blease


This is an absolute treat. The production from the excellent Theatre by The Lake, directed by Max Roberts, has all the heart and pathos that you would expect coupled with fine central performances from Stephen Tompkinson as Frank and Jessica Johnson as Rita. Both make these roles their own and relish each moment.

Rita is a working-class girl who seeks education and joins an open university course. Her tutor is the heavy drinking laconic Frank whose own midlife crisis has him on a path of self-doubt and disillusion.

The script fizzes with classic Russell wit and observation. The acerbic Frank and the ever-optimistic Rita; clash and rail together yet all their choices come with huge cost. The final scenes never really conclude the piece, and allow them both new beginnings.

Stephen Tompkinson as Frank is a fine weary academic, with hidden bottles behind various novels.  He is endlessly exasperated by his own self-loathing and initial judgements of the uneducated, knowledge hungry Rita.

Jessica Johnson is a vibrant energetic foil to Tompkinson. Her endless quest for betterment is palpable and the sacrifices deeply felt.

A glorious design from Patrick Connellan nicely captures the austere nature of education, the firmly shut windows defying the potential of fresh air and new ideas.

The play has not aged in the slightest. It remains a great piece of work examining the challenges of class in education.

The sense of entitlement and assumptions of others are never far from the surface. Some things hardly seem to change.

THE BATH ECHO -  Petra Schofield


Educating Rita, immortalised by Michael Caine and Julie Walters in the 1983 film adaptation, Willy Russell’s part-autobiographical two-man play still sparkles with wit and poignancy almost thirty years since premiering at The Warehouse, London in 1980 having been commissioned by the Royal Shakespeare Company.

Revived at frequent intervals with varying success, I caught the current Theatre by the Lake production at Theatre Royal Bath (until 8th June 2019) as part of an extensive UK tour. Directed by Max Roberts, Stephen Tompkinson is well cast as Frank, a failed poet-come-university-professor tasked with the seemingly uphill battle of transforming dissatisfied and woefully uneducated Liverpudlian hairdresser, Rita (Jessica Johnson) into an academic who understands E. M. ‘bleeding’ Forster and Shakespeare.

Johnson’s portrayal of the outspoken, foul-mouthed Rita, bursting with enthusiasm during her first meeting with Frank, is brilliant in its exhaustive (and exhausting) energy and we can relate to Frank’s apprehension at the prospect of trying to reign her in. As she says herself, if it hadn’t been for the Open University she would never have stood a chance of gaining a degree and insists on Frank’s mentorship when he’s ready to throw in the towel and suggest another tutor.

Having left school at fifteen to become a women’s hairdresser before returning to education and becoming a teacher, Russell’s own experiences inspired both Frank and Rita, while the work as a whole reflects not only the changing attitudes to women, finally encouraged towards professions rather than the servitude of housewifery and motherhood, but also the eduction opportunities open to the working class as a whole, shunned by Rita’s husband who considers her Open University course a betrayal and burns her books accordingly.

Frank on the other hand is the antithesis of someone who has largely taken for granted the privileges afforded by his university education, and, resigning himself to the dissatisfaction Rita is seeking to overturn, comforts himself with alcohol.

Countless bottles of liquor are concealed behind the books lining his room (designed by Patrick Connellan), in which the entire action of the play is set, and we pity the man who could have been so much more. Only Rita can reinvigorate his love of teaching and the literature that once inspired him.

The friendship which develops between the pair is shown in snapshot scenes rippled with humour and reflection. As Frank must choose whether to be swallowed up by his addiction and self-perpetuating despondency, so too Rita (whose real name is actually Susan) must choose whether to break away from her dim-witted, chauvinistic husband and the part of herself she is no longer able to identify with. Frank is meanwhile torn between admiring the courageous Rita and resenting her increasing absence and independence. After all, educating Rita has been about so much more than preparing her for exams.

While the direction, choreography and design are in themselves commendable, the strength of this glorious production rests on the talents of Hopkinson and Johnson, their believable chemistry and the absorbing change we are able to witness in Rita who holds our attention and wins our affection. When she returns from summer school – no longer the ignorant, socially inept mature student intimidated by her younger academic counterparts, not to mention Frank’s circle of friends whom she once feared would ridicule her – she is a confident and intelligent disciple of English literature equipped to debate and challenge Frank on all manner of subjects, much to his surprise and alarm.

When he goes to introduce Rita to William Blake he is disheartened to discover that she is not only familiar with the poet but can recite Songs of Innocence and of Experience at length. Rita, whose infectious spirit and unique perception captivated him from day one, is no longer solely his muse, he has given her the tools to forge ahead alone, leaving him behind to wallow in self pity and continue to make himself the university laughing stock. Forced to take a sabbatical after falling off the rostrum in drunkenness during a lecture, the once non-judgemental Rita who sought Frank’s wisdom, now offers him guidance, although their paths, in the true sense of Shakespearean tragedy, are destined to diverge. -  Rebecca Lipkin





Willy Russel’s masterpiece needs no introduction for those that have seen the original movie, but this production has introduced a whole new audience to the prestigious comedy that is Educating Rita.

5/5 stars

Set in the early 1980s, Educating Rita tells the story of married hairdresser Rita who enrols on an Open University course to expand her horizons. Her tutor Frank is a frustrated poet, brilliant academic and dedicated drinker who is less than enthusiastic about taking Rita on as a student, but it soon becomes clear that the two have much to teach each other.

“From a very young age when I read Educating Rita, it gave me permission to aspire, to have the option of a different way of life.” Jessica Johnson
For those familiar with the story and who may have seen the movie, will understand the power that comes with the simplicity and subtlety of the set. The entirety of the production is played out within a lecturers office which is coated with academic references. The tall bookcases, wooden desk and files upon files are all things synonymous with a university office. This is due to the brilliant work of designer, Patrick Connellan.

Willy Russel’s masterpiece needs no introduction for those that have seen the original movie, but this production has introduced a whole new audience to the prestigious comedy that is Educating Rita.

Set in the early 1980s, Educating Rita tells the story of married hairdresser Rita who enrols on an Open University course to expand her horizons. Her tutor Frank is a frustrated poet, brilliant academic and dedicated drinker who is less than enthusiastic about taking Rita on as a student, but it soon becomes clear that the two have much to teach each other.

“From a very young age when I read Educating Rita, it gave me permission to aspire, to have the option of a different way of life.” Jessica Johnson
For those familiar with the story and who may have seen the movie, will understand the power that comes with the simplicity and subtlety of the set. The entirety of the production is played out within a lecturers office which is coated with academic references. The tall bookcases, wooden desk and files upon files are all things synonymous with a university office. This is due to the brilliant work of designer, Patrick Connellan.

Stephen Tompkinson plays a self-pitying alcoholic lecturer, Frank. His performance brings out two sides of the character. We see the vulnerable, humorous and caring side that just wants the best for his student, but we also get the arrogant, blunt and abrupt side to Frank.

There’s nothing of him in there, there’s no passion, So, to meet this woman with so much passion, he almost wants to run away. She offers him a little bit of a lifeline, and he’s doing the same for her. Stephen Tompkinson on his character, Frank.

For the audience, they’re a pure a joy to watch as the relationship grows and the true personality of the characters are revealed. It’s evident that he needs her just as much as she needs his help.

Jessica Johnson delivers an animated and dynamic performance as Rita, the quick-witted and very opinionated hairdresser who joins the university to better her life and forget her current circumstances.

Of the two cast members, her character development has the biggest impact and goes from a comedic and lively performance to one that packs a strong punch and at times the poignant moments poke through.

Social and class divide plays an underlying role throughout this production. Rita has a low educational background and Frank is in a strong academic field with a rich background. ‘I don’t have any culture’ Rita says. The two contrasting lives at times are strained, but their parallel lives move closer together as the story winds up.

“It’s definitely a love story, they definitely care for each other, she loves him for giving her the opportunities.” Jessica Johnson

Two cast members, one setting and one unforgettable show!



5/5 stars – an unmissable revival of a masterpiece
Willy Russell’s script tells the story of a working-class woman, Susan ‘Rita’ White, in her late twenties who enters the Open University in hope to feed her soul and change her life for the better. Her tutor, Frank, is a frustrated poet, disappointed with life and all the inadequacies it appears to provide. His only real passion lies in a bottle of hard liquor, and therefore, when the bold, excitable Rita bursts into his life, he is very much unenthusiastic. However, it soon becomes clear that it is not just Rita who can learn from Frank. He also finds there is a lot to learn from Rita, and as the play progresses, the line between the student/teacher role is blurred.

This much-loved play has been reintroduced into the modern stage by producers David Pugh and Dafydd Rogers and Theatre by the Lake. However, the play has not been modernised. Instead, it remains true to its roots of the 1980s – yet the hunger of its characters for something better in life is timeless.

Television star, Stephen Tompkinson, plays the role of the uninspired, alcoholic lecturer, Frank. Unsurprisingly, Tompkinson is extraordinary. His ability to switch between the authoritative, arrogant, academic to the desperate, vulnerable, drunk is encapsulating. In the words of Frank himself, life is ‘a rich and frantic whirl’, and Tompkinson is able to grapple with both the riches of academia and the frantic reality of despair in his performance. For Tompkinson, the play is A universal story of two lost souls, mismatched people in terms of character and background who meet at the right time to help each other in life.

What was most remarkable about Tompkinson’s performance for me was the scene nearing the end of the first Act.  Not only did Tompkinson project a fantastic – for lack of a better word – drunk, but the layers in which Frank’s drunken state is attempting to cover his desperation and inadequacy comes through. Anyone can act, but not everyone can create the depth of psychological pain which Tompkinson achieves.

As for Jessica Johnson, well, she is an eccentric burst of energy. From the minute she enters the stage, she steals the audiences’ attention (and Frank’s). Rita’s frantic, uneasiness is expressed through her inability to sit still for long, perching rather than sitting on her seat, bouncing across the stage with each new train of thought. Rita continually refers to education as the tool she needs to be free, yet what she does not realise, and what Johnson projects so well, is the innate free spirit that lets her speak without thinking and move so naturally in any given space. Talking from her own experience with the play, Johnson said that It gave me permission to aspire, to have the option of a different way of life.

Perhaps that is why her performance of Rita is so raw – not only is she a comic genius, but Johnson is able to capture that ambition Rita feeds off.

The power of this play comes from its simplicity. Two actors conversing about literature and life in just one room. This room is, for those who don’t know, Frank’s university office – a room which set designer, Patrick Connellan, has saturated with academia. The large bookcases topped with overfilled files, the dominant wooden desk, and a less spectacular ‘student’ desk sit as the perfect foundation for cultivating the very complex relationship between the characters.

Indeed, the brazen, uneducated Rita uses the set fantastically. Initially, Director Max Roberts has Rita migrating around the room with no real place. However, as she develops, both academically and socially, she finds a firmer position in no other than Frank’s desk chair. Meanwhile, Frank distinctly descends deeper and deeper into alcohol-fuelled despair, landing ironically in the seat in front of the ‘student’ desk.

The unconventional conversations of literature and haircuts, showered with life counselling sessions encapsulates the complexities of what it is to be human – it’s all nothing, but it’s all very real and very relevant as we search for a greater outcome. Both Rita and Frank undergo life lessons, and while Rita’s is perhaps the more obvious change, her ability to reignite some passion into the hopeless Frank leaves a poignant reminder that none of us are too far away from the possibility of a better life.

Forty years on and this play is still as comic, still as painful, and still as relatable as ever.




Frank doesn’t have a book-lined study, he has a book littered study. The walls are bare in Max Jones’ impressive circular design, instead there are piles of well-used tomes in no apparent order, though Frank can still find his hidden whisky.

This room becomes an effective arena for the gladiatorial contest between Frank and his Open University student Rita. The two actors in this production are in complete balance. Katie Elin-Salt’s Rita has a thick South Wales’ valley accent which subtly shifts as she gains maturity. Her account of having seen her first Shakespeare play, Macbeth, is overpowering in its vigour and enthusiasm. So too is her reporting of her first OU Summer School but there is now a major shift in who Rita is and how she sees herself.

One of Richard Elfyn’s finest moments comes during this passage as he begins to sense that Rita is moving away from him, followed by the emptiness in his face as she recites and talks about William Blake and he sees that he has missed his chance to introduce her to the poet.

Both actors, helped by Emma Lucia’s discrete direction, create rounded, flawed people. Both are excellent too in bringing to electrifying life the unseen people, partner, husband, flatmate, students, they meet outside the confines of the room.

It’s often funny but this production really succeeds as an emotional drama about growing or staying the same. The two actors create the most convincing Frank and Rita I’ve ever met.

THE STAGE – Victor Hallett


It was clear that the production would maintain it’s original time setting, as soon as you entered the auditorium '80s music was playing. The set was made up of mountains of books and was clearly a stereotypical professor's office. I had read Educating Rita but had never seen the film or a stage version, so it was with trepidation I waited for the start. Knowing Willy Russel himself has been heavily involved with this production only added to my anticipation. This was clearly a draw for others too, as considering it’s a Monday evening the theatre was packed. The audience being made up of a mix of people of all ages again attests to the universal pull of his works. I wondered how this production, firmly set in the '80s, would resonate with a modern audience?

As it started we saw a dishevelled professor (Stephen Tompkinson) on stage with a booming lecturer's voice and a clear wit. The jokes came thick and fast and it was not long before Jessica Johnson playing Rita, burst on to the stage. Her energy and vivacity brought a sharp contrast to the apathetic and disenchanted Frank. It was a stark difference but a complimentary one.

The chemistry between the two leads was undeniable, they played their relationship to perfection and brought a power and beauty to the words of Willy Russell. There was a clear paternal relationship that shifted and changed throughout without ever losing the connection the characters possessed.

The set was placed at the edge of the stage, extremely close to the audience. This allowed the audience to feel a part of the intimate scenes. The proximity of the stage was slightly unsettling and made me feel a little claustrophobic but I realised this was the point. Rita feels claustrophobic in her life, trapped by her lack of education and opportunity. Frank is likewise trapped and claustrophobic by the constraints of academia. The fact Frank never left the stage meant you were always tuned into the performance, their was never any let up. This helped you to sympathise with the characters' own journeys.

For the two hours I was fully engaged, both mentally and emotionally with the characters. I cared. I wanted to know which character was right, who I felt had changed, the motivations for the changes, who had ultimately helped who. I needed to know.

Jessica Johnson as Rita gave an excellent performance. Her Liverpudlian accent was a little "iffy" at times but this can be overlooked by the sheer innocence, insatiable drive and joy she brought to the role. This was seen from the constant movement round the stage to the over pronouncements of random words to show her newly acquired knowledge or sophistication. She has a hope that is seen through her constant reaching, whether for books, her hair, or the back of a chair. It is with this subtlety of movement that Jessica Johnson makes such an iconic character her own.

Stephen Tompkinson has professed his love for this character for a long time and it was apparent to see in his portrayal of him. His subtle reactions and bravado brought a real pathos to the role. His drunken stupors were played with humour that still evoked pity and a little frustration.

My wonderings about how a modern audience would react to an '80s play were answered with standing ovations and rapturous applause. This is a play that endures and is still as relevant today, in our times of tuition fees and economic down turn. It plays with our perceptions of education and learning but more importantly makes you care.

I left the performance, having laughed, cried but most of all having cared about the characters and their journeys. This is the beauty of this performance.

Francesca Eager – Number 9 Reviews





" This touring production directed by Max Roberts and starring Stephen Tompkinson as Frank and Jessica Johnson as Rita has to be the best we’ve seen – ever. "



Occasionally, in the role of seasoned reviewer, one wonders what it would be like to experience a classic comedy-drama for the very first time. And in the case where there has been a popular film version around since the early 1980s – not to have seen that either. Everything fresh, everything new, each witty line and dramatic moment upcoming completely unknown. One has been on this good earth over sixty years and has seen Willy Russell’s Educating Rita a fair few times in and out of the life of a reviewer. It is an exceptionally good play and holds its pedigree well. It is truly inspiring and very human. This touring production directed by Max Roberts and starring Stephen Tompkinson as Frank and Jessica Johnson as Rita has to be the best we’ve seen – ever. It feels like witnessing an original production for the first time.

Why might this be? Well, the acting is very naturalistic from both Tompkinson and Johnson and this allows the comedy to flow naturally from the drama and certainly not be forced for the laughs. Both actors give us warm, regularly funny and vulnerable characters who are humanly aspirant and deeply fallible. We ache for both of them to be redeemed and individually find ways out of each of their ‘stuck in the rut’ lives. We want to love them and Willy Russell’s story enables us to care about them almost as if they were family.

Willy Russell’s writing still has bite after nearly forty years of the play being written and this production is set in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The time period setting is vital as working class people’s experience of finding they have a desire to be educated and to improve their lot in life via the Open University was very different then to now. The Open University experience of today is vastly expanded in its subjects and methods of learning.

Set entirely in Frank’s college office (super set design by Patrick Connellan) the action is episodic and rather poetic in the way that one scene slides into the next through music. The style gives a sense of time passing and helps to craft and map out the journeys each character take as they wittingly and unwittingly aid each other via dramas to points of catharsis. 

On press night at Nottingham Theatre Royal the audience give the actors and production a spontaneous standing ovation in recognition of a job done exceptionally well and virtual master-classes in understated acting from both actors. It’s an education.

Very highly recommended.

East Midlands Theatre - Phil Lowe



'It might be down to these two actors that this reviewer now believes it's a better play than he once thought' head

It’s a well-known story. Working-class Liverpudlian hairdresser Rita enrols on a Literature course with the Open University. Her one-to-one tutor is Frank, a jaded academic who’s too fond of the bottle. Very broadly speaking, we have the same narrative arc as Pygmalion or even Frankenstein.

Anyone who studied with the actual OU in the seventies will know that this stage OU is not at all like the real thing ever was: it’s terrifyingly unrealistic. But that matters not a jot; playwright Willy Russell uses artistic licence to great effect.

Jessica Johnson is terrific as Rita. For the first few episodes – it’s a highly episodic piece – you might think that, in terms of mannerism, gait, gesture, Johnson is over-playing her character’s comically down to earth vulgarity. But it soon becomes clear that this allows her to demonstrate Rita’s halting transformation into something closer to your stereotypical seventies arts student.

In arguably the more demanding role of the crumpled, declining Frank, Stephen Tompkinson is utterly convincing – it’s the writer’s fault, not his, that Frank isn’t eased out of the job earlier.

Both Tompkinson and Johnson handle their gradual falling into a sort of a love beautifully.

It might be largely down to these two actors that the present reviewer now believes that Educating Rita is a better play than he once thought. It doesn’t patronise the working class. Nor does it glorify all things Liverpool. Instead it touches on such themes as the post-war collapse of working-class culture, and the plight of the married woman enmeshed in it. And it makes explicit the cultural confusion of finding oneself caught in the no-man’s land between two social classes.

Besides all this, Educating Rita is a very funny and entertaining play, with a nice touch at the end involving a comb and a pair of scissors.

Nottingham Live/Post - Alan Geary




RITA is sick of singing the same old boozy songs down the social club, and the banal chit-chat in the salon where she works.

But when she enrols on an Open University course, to broaden her horizons, she soon finds herself intimidated by all the confident young students sprawled around the campus.

Stumbling into her tutor’s office, a jumble of bookshelves concealing half-empty liquor bottles, the Liverpool hairdresser feels she no longer belongs back home, but doesn’t fit into the academic world either.

Frank, her jaded, borderline alcoholic tutor, initially has little faith in Rita’s ability to grasp English literature, but gradually the two of them take a quest of discovery and realise how much they can learn from each other.

It is nearly 40 years since Willy Russell wrote Educating Rita, and its themes of class, gender equality and self-expression are just as relevant.

Comedy, pathos and social comment are woven through this powerful, entertaining two-hander, beautifully performed by Stephen Tompkinson as Frank and Jessica Johnson as Rita. Refreshed and re-worked, with a hands-on presence by Russell during the rehearsal process, this is a production for our times, while retaining the sparkling lines of his original piece.

Set entirely within Frank’s study, the focus of the play is on the two performances, and the dialogue, shifting the balance of power between a frustrated academic and an uneducated hairdresser who has initially read little more than a dog-eared paperback potboiler. It was a treat to watch the two actors in action, their quickfire lines peppered with subtle asides and silences.

Tompkinson was terrific as Frank; a dishevelled cynic gradually emerging, with Rita’s encouragement, from his whisky-soaked retreat to return to his writing.
When we first meet Rita she’s hungry to learn, and charms Frank with her simple take on literary criticism. Explaining assonance, he concedes that it is, just as she says: “Getting the rhyme wrong”.

Johnson was a fabulous Rita, gliding from wide-eyed ingenue to confident young woman. Soaking up the books Frank lends her, her cultural odyssey extends to the theatre, where Shakespeare’s Macbeth hits her like lightning. “Wasn’t his wife a cow?” she gasps.

By Act Two, she’s soaring, casually referencing William Blake as if she’s been reading him all her life. She’s swapped the pencil skirt and heels for dungarees and, for the first time in her life, she has choices.

Funny, moving and uplifting, this show is a class act. It’s at the Alhambra until Saturday.

Emma Clayton – Telegraph and Argos


In theatrical terms a two-hander is one of the most difficult roles to tackle. Just two actors on stage throughout the entire performance is challenging to even the most experienced thespian, and Educating Rita is one such testing piece. Written by Liverpudlian Willy Russell at the behest of the Royal Shakespeare Company, the new play opened in 1980, and the film followed soon after, with the screenplay also being written by Russell.

This latest production of this evergreen show is touring Britain again and is produced by David Pugh and Dafydd Rogers of Calendar Girls and The Full Monty fame. This time the two stars of the show are the distinguished actor Stephen Tompkinson as Frank and relative newcomer Jessica Johnson in the plum role of Rita. Johnson bounds onto the stage as the Liverpudlian hairdresser who has a longing to be educated and lands in the class of the fading and drunken academic, Frank. The journey that follows will shape the lives of these wildly dissimilar characters, as each face their demons and succumb to the unexpected.

The stage setting is typical of any college tutor’s room, and the opening scene as Frank searches his library, not for his books, but behind his books for his hidden whiskey bottles, is a funny and promising start. This is the only stage set in the play, and it really needs no more as it represents everything that the story encompasses. The longing of an uneducated woman, a hairdresser, though talented in her field, who longs to understand the meaning of literary words. And the educated and literate tutor, who knows everything that Rita wishes to learn, but is too disillusioned by drink to take her seriously.

As Rita, Johnson sports a strong Liverpool accent which fades as her learning grows, and she plays it for all it is worth. Her first visit to Frank’s room after her education has started is beautifully done as she uses newly-learned words incorrectly. It is a fast and clever scene which shows her strong comedy delivery and sharp timing. Russell’s taut script is delivered perfectly, and Johnson’s remarkable self-assurance grows as her confidence solidifies. By the second act the expertise of Tompkinson seems to be a rock that leads and supports her, and towards the end she is a towering presence.

Tompkinson offers up the most wonderful drunk; by rote he is sad, clever, pathetic and lovable, as he turns in an entirely apposite and utterly compelling performance. Shades of his famous Inspector Banks never once hover, as he gives a virtuoso portrayal of Willy Russell’s disillusioned Frank who is finally given a glimmer of hope and pride in himself.

There are many theatre productions today which boast huge casts and numerous scene changes, and many are beautifully done and the numbers on stage add massively to the proceedings. Educating Rita is unique in that it is a one scene, two cast, two hour play, which, if cleverly written and cast with superlative actors, which this one absolutely is, can be a theatre-goer’s dream. I have seen two-handers before on stage, including other productions of Educating Rita, and none have achieved the stature of this production. It grows steadily in interest, assurance and skill as it moves through the story, and the final words and actions are so absolutely right that you can almost hear the satisfaction flow through the audience. It is theatre perfection.

On Yorkshire Magazine - Sandra Callard



Willy Russell’s 1980 stage play might well be remembered fondly by the nation when adapted into film in 1983 starring Michael Caine and Julie Walters, but this new touring production proves that Educating Rita has stood the test of time for the last forty years and will continue to do so for the next.

Theatre by the Lake, based in Keswick, is known for its in-house repertory productions that play at its picturesque base near Derwentwater. It is unusual, therefore, for them to produce a touring piece of theatre, especially with a high profile actor such as Stephen Tompkinson. However, judging by the quality of this production it is clear that it is going to be an enormous success.

Rita (Jessica Johnson) dreams of a life that is more than working in a hair salon. She has enrolled in The Open University to study English literature and is assigned her academic tutor – weathered and disillusioned Frank (Stephen Tompkinson). On first arriving in his book-laden office it is clear that she is going to need a lot of work: Howard’s End sounds filthy to her and she is more familiar with Yates’ Wine Lodge than WB Yeats, the poet. Frank, a frustrated poet himself, takes on the challenge of educating Rita (whatever the word ‘educating’ might mean) in a play that becomes about self-discovery on both sides on the desk.

Influenced by George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion, Russell subverts the idea of shaping an individual into a particular mould. Instead, Russell celebrates Rita’s uniqueness and refreshing attitude into academia: “I’m going to have to change you!” Frank despairs as Rita begs to learn how to conform. The play stands the test of time because it deals with universals. He superbly, through very funny dialogue, scaffolds a debate about huge topics: the difference between subjectivity and objectivity from differing class systems; the value of ‘high’ and ‘low’ art; the value of opinion from different vantage points depending on socio-economic backgrounds; and what culture really is. As heavy as these topics sound they are discussed with such wit that Russell perfectly conjoins form and content in his writing – that is, the dichotomy of ‘high’ and ‘low’ art are balanced evenly in a play that deals with enormous subject matters yet is still an incredibly accessible piece of theatre.

Frank is a drunk and with ever more bottles of whiskey appearing from behind his books he becomes increasingly dishevelled as the play progresses. Conversely, Rita is flourishing – new friends, a new job and a new appreciation on life leaves her sparkling by the end of the play. And Jessica Johnson sparkles as Rita – warm but with a razor tongue delivering deliciously funny lines. As Frank Stephen Tompkinson is excellent – a melancholic, frustrated artist trapped in academia glimpsing a caged bird he can help to set free. “What’s it like to be free” asks Rita. “Ah … now there’s a question” Frank replies. It is these nuggets of genius that keeps Russell’s writing as fresh today as it ever was.

Educating Rita is a play that delivers a wonderfully rich, entertaining and funny night out but also a genuinely fascinating and intelligent debate into the worth of art and culture as a whole.  It makes an audience question what freedom is, what education is and from what perspective opinions are classed as ‘correct’.



Willy Russell’s modern classic play is brought back to life with energy and passion at The Lowry this week. Possibly one of the Liverpool playwright’s best pieces of writing; made famous by the multi-award-winning movie of the same title, starring Julie Walters and Michael Caine. Last night’s opening performance was a masterclass in connection, relationships and characterisation. Set inside a University professor’s musty, fussy old study; as antiquated as the professor’s love of teaching; the play explores the unlikely relationship of an alcoholic, failed poet, university professor and his working class, scouse hairdresser-cum-aspiring-literature-student who is hoping to gain a degree via the open university despite failing in education thus far. It is a social commentary on aspiration and dreams and class barriers. Like most of Willy Russell’s writing, famed for his social awareness and commenting through social dramas, it explores the themes subtly at times and with a firm fist at others. The play is literally a series of episodic scenes across a period of academic time but it works beautifully without feeling claustrophobic. The light and set reflected time and place, daytime and evening and the changing seasons mirroring the characters changes and growth. The set was a sublime with a huge series of bookcases which hid Frank’s not so secret stash of booze to enable him to get through the day.

Starring film and TV star Stephen Tompkinson as the acerbic, literate wordsmith and guru ‘ Frank’, ‘Educating Rita’ really makes you think hard about the nature of life, learning, education and its value in securing ones place in the social pecking order. Tompkinson is the epitome of the cord-clad, uni professor who has spent far too long locked in a social prison of his own making. Surrounded by his cellmates: whisky, brandy and the spirit shelf, he naval gazes morosely to begin with until Rita bursts into his office and life demanding to ‘know everything!’ A beautifully observed performance as he watches with a controlled bemusement at the fizzy Rita who comes to him expecting him to be some kind of oracle. When it was first written 40 years ago, the notion of the post education adult returning to education and learning and achieving was quite a novel idea. The more absurd notion that a professor would be giving one to one, evening drop-in tutorials with a student even more absurd but this is firmly set in 1979 pre-Thatcherite Britain where everything seemed a possibility. Willy Russell wrote the play with himself in mind as the heroine as he too was a working class hairdresser who returned to education as an adult (becoming a teacher).

Max Roberts’ production is certainly not tired and the quality of the text and the acting breathes new life into it in our 21st century reflective society where we tell our children that education matters most of all. Jessica Johnson plays our heroine ‘Rita’ with aplomb. A seasoned theatre performer, she had energy and gravitas and a very believable scouse accent. It must be very difficult to resist doing a turn as Julie Walters’ iconic Rita but I think that what she did made the role her own. Her character grew in depth as the play progressed and after she leaves her husband that became more apparent. She was feisty to the max and playfully flirted with the bumbling Frank who at points can be seen to be falling under her mesmerising distraction. There were little points earlier on when I felt that Rita was a little too big but that settled as Act 1 progressed. Johnson’s metamorphosis when she challenges Frank on his opinions and choices was spine-tinglingly good and the audience were silent as the stage was electrified with the unspoken emotions going on between the two characters.

The relationship between Frank and Rita was electric throughout. The pace was outstandingly good and the interplay was beautifully honed with micro reactions and the timing was a masterclass. The director has extracted every ounce of humour in this blackly comic play. I felt like we went on a rollercoaster of emotions with Rita as she grew and changed like a flower searching for sunlight and water, hand fed by Frank until we see she realises that she has outgrown the pot and he has nothing left to give and as they fight to let go and say goodbye. I would love to know what happened to Rita once she achieved her pie in the sky aspiration as I am sure many other theatre goers have wondered over the years. A fabulous production with fluent characterisations and precise direction on a stunning set. An absolute must see if you can get a ticket.


NUMBER9REVIEWS - Kathryn Gorton


Yesterday evening I went to The Lowry Theatre in Salford Quays, Manchester to watch the wonderful Stephen Tompkinson and Jessica Johnson star in a new stage production of Willy Russell’s Educating Rita. It is always a pleasure to visit The Lowry, which I try to do regularly, as it is a modern, comfortable theatre with extremely pleasant and helpful staff.

Educating Rita was first premiered in 1980, but the story of Rita, an intellectually frustrated, unhappily married hairdresser who aspires to further her education and chooses Frank, a brilliant academic with a drinking problem, as her tutor, is as relevant today as it was over forty years ago. Stephen Tompkinson is superb in his portrayal of Frank, who is initially reluctant to teach Rita, but eventually realises her hidden potential. His charismatic stage presence is so great that I was spellbound, unable to take my eyes away from him. As the story develops, he becomes more enthusiastic as he falls under Rita’s spell and then becomes cynical and bitter as he realises that she has changed into a more confident person, no longer reliant on his teaching skills. Jessica Johnson plays Rita with great flair, breezing onto the stage like a vibrant breath of fresh air, tackling her Liverpudlian accent with great aplomb.

The first half of the performance is extremely funny with lots of laugh out loud comedy moments but the second half is very poignant and much more serious as Rita grows in her new found confidence and Frank becomes more shambolic and disillusioned, eventually losing his position at the university, to be shunted off to Australia.

This performance was outstanding – one of the most enjoyable shows which I have seen for a long time. This is an hilarious, heart-warming comedy and I loved every second, leaving the theatre with a big smile on my face.




As Rita bursts into the study of her Open University tutor, you know it’s going to be a great performance of this new production of Will Russell’s great British comedy, Educating Rita writes Karen Morley-Chesworth.

Like rediscovering an album you loved from the 80s and placing the needle into the groove of the vinyl and the magical phrases come back to you, returning to Educating Rita is pure pleasure.

It must be hard for two actors to step into these roles which are so synonymous with Julie Walters and Michael Caine who made the film version of this play so successful – however you feel as if the role of Frank was made for Stephen Tompkinson, and all memory of Ms Walters’ brilliant portrayal of Rita are forgotten as Jessica Johnson explodes onto the set.

To remember the lines from a production you saw 36 years ago shows the impact of Russell’s script. It is so hard to believe the words Rita delivers have been written by a man, they ooze oestrogen. Yet despite knowing what comes next, Tompkinson and Johnson take ownership of this classic tale of a working-class heroine who just wants an education – to give her choices. 

Together, Tompkinson and Johnson make it feel like you are watching a new play. Despite a different political era, this play is as relevant and fresh today as when the film was first released in 1983. 

Today Open University isn’t just for those who missed the university boat in their teens, as student loans make part-time study the only options for many without financial wealth, yet this doesn’t age this piece which makes you laugh and cry at the emotional rollercoaster of two people brought together in the name of education, who change each other’s lives forever.

Tompkinson captures the despair of the educator, growned down by years of giving to his students’ formatted ways of writing about literature to pass exams, rather than focusing on his passion for writing his poetry. 

Johnson as the nieve 29-year old hairdresser who is transformed into a cultured, educated young woman captures the characteristics of each phase of development brilliantly. Her pace and style work in perfect harmony with Tompkinson. Together they are perfectly cast.

Tompkinson acts the perfect drunk, his movements so accurate, the slight slur in speech pitch and pace perfect. This is an excellent portrayal of Frank, a more natural, less pretentious and more rugged version.  

There is real chemistry between these two actors that magnifies the relationship between these two characters, as the balance of power transfers from teacher to student as we progress along the OU course with them.

The production at Theatre by the Lake in Keswick is the first of a tour visiting 11 theatres. I would say get a ticket now, however, in Cumbria, it’s a sell-out (only chance is if you get a return ticket), and quite deservedly too. I’d travel to see this production again, it really is that good.

5/5 stars CUMBRIA 24


“Education, education, education" was how Tony Blair set out his priorities as he campaigned to be elected in 1997.

It gave people choices in what they did in life. Opportunities.

Some 17 years earlier, Willy Russell had written almost exactly the same thing in his comic two-hander.

Telling the story of working class Scouse lass desperate to escape life as a hairdresser, she enrols in an Open University English literature course and is teamed up with Frank as a lecturer.

A former poet, he is washed up and washed out by whiskey. He’s taken on the position to pay for all the booze hidden in his book-infested study.

Rita is driven to learn and Frank is shocked and smitten by her dynamism and determination.

Jessica Johnson as Rita is a fizzing ball of attitude and energy, hungry to change her life, whatever the cost.

Stephen Tompkinson is perfect as the careworn lecturer. Best-known for his TV roles, much is expected of him and he delivers, providing arrogance, grace and fragility in Frank.

As she improves, he declines. She rises in self-esteem, he sinks to the bottom of a bottle.
Alongside the jokes there is plenty of social commentary about the despair of the neglected working classes.

As well as it is acted, it is the script that is the real star. It still froths and flows and sounds new and immediate. Perhaps that is the greatest compliment for Tompkinson and Johnson who are a superb team.

The second half is more a powerplay of their personalities and drilling home the message that life is all about choices, choices, choices.

Russell’s play is a feel-good story with lots of laughs and this production, directed by Max Roberts with a fabulous set from Patrick Connellan and co-produced by the theatre, is fresh and relevant.

Its message about education and of the daily struggle of an underclass is still just as valid today as it was 40 years ago.

The run here is sold out. The play goes on tour and deserves to sell out everywhere.



Willy Russell’s masterpiece needs little in the way of introduction to the older generation who will probably remember when it came to fame in the early 80s both on stage and in film. This new touring production, currently running at Keswick’s Theatre by the Lake, stays true to the original but is every bit as fresh and relevant now as it was then.

Stephen Tompkinson is perfectly cast as the brilliant, but over-drinking, Frank who reluctantly takes on an Open University student who calls herself Rita. Equally perfectly cast is stunning Jessica Johnson in the title role who makes a convincing scouser, a woman aiming for 'something more' than the life she has as a married hairdresser. Such was their chemistry that the audience took to applauding many of the scenes as though they were the end of Act one! When the play finally did end, most of us rose to our feet in appreciation that we'd witnessed something sublime.

'Educating Rita' is, at heart, an uplifting comedy which laughs both at working class life and the absurdity of academia. While most good comedies have a poignant moment, something more serious to take away, their aim is entertainment. This was Russell's stated aim too yet from the very opening scene until the final 'clip', as it were, this production is loaded with so much it's hard to know where to begin.

There must surely be few of us who don't find one or both characters resonating with ourselves in some way. Rita is still young but old enough to feel trapped in a culture and lifestyle which is strangling her. She wants 'to know' and is painfully aware how little she understands the things which are considered great - like poetry and theatre. Frank is old and feels a failure as a poet, as a husband and as a teacher. He is morose, finding solace only alcohol, until this strange, wild, yet exciting creature steps into his room. It is the classic Pygmalion tale retold drawing on 'My Fair Lady', 'Frankenstein' and Russell's own life in faultless blend. In the background, Rita's husband tries to control her, and keep her from lessons. But will Frank end up controlling her instead?

I can't help but make personal connections. When not writing what Rita would call 'crap' or reviews like this, my 'other job' is teaching, like Frank. I've seen dozens of 'Ritas' of both sexes go by over 20 years and I understand something of his pride, love and sadness at seeing them grow and then, quite rightly, no longer need your support. I've also seen too many colleagues worn down by the system but unable to do anything else, driven to drink. But I also grew up in the 70s and 80s in a coal-mining town emotionally crushed by the strikes and no longer believing in the post-war dream. Like Rita, I couldn't wait to leave education and then couldn't wait to return to it either, years later. I suspect I was not the only one in the audience to empathise with both characters in some similar way. This is Willy Russell's genius (and indeed a not-so-hidden theme of the play): He forces you to connect. Society may have moved on, but the angst of both characters is still there and their issues are still our issues.

Like Rita, in our youth, many of us wanted something more and yet, over time, come to appreciate what we had - something Frank doesn't quite manage to convey to his student. When it comes to the inevitable conflict between them, who is wrong? Is there a 'wrong'? Rita gets the last word on the matter, and rightly so because that's the point - She wants a voice and a choice. In the end, don't we all?

'Educating Rita' is sold out at Theatre by the Lake I'm sorry, but not surprised, to say. It is touring around the country and I couldn't recommend it more highly; it is worth chasing. Check for details.



MUCH-LOVED actor Stephen Tompkinson is starring in a show at Keswick's Theatre by the Lake this week.

Tompkinson plays the part of Frank in Educating Rita, Willy Russell's hilarious and heart-warming comedy.

It follows the journey of Rita (Jessica Johnson) - from young, fast-talking Scouser hairdresser, desperate to break out of the relentless cycle she has been born into, to an educated woman with an ocean of choices in front of her.

While her trajectory is clearly on the rise and she morphs from giddy girl in lippy, heels and tight short skirts to articulate student in dungarees and DMs, her university tutor appears on more of a downward spiral.

Frank is a frustrated poet, brilliant academic and dedicated drinker.
The play is set in the tutor’s airless room – you can practically smell the dusty books lining every shelf. He is pretty dusty himself, dressed in various shades of brown, wearing the classic cordury jacket and in need of a good haircut.

His new student is immediately won over by the sheer amount of literary classics in one room. It’s a while before she realises what they are masking.

While they come from different ends of the spectrum in terms of education, class and lifestyle, within the confines of this stifling room they move beyond all that and do a fair bit of sparring but ultimately connect, realising how much they have to teach each other.

It’s an intense two-man play with fascinating characters at its core. There’s cracking dialogue, lots of emotion and humour, which the director and actors deliver beautifully.

There's fantastic energy between Tompkinson and Johnson in this Theatre by the Lake and David Pugh & Dafydd Rogers co-production.

The pair are perfect for their parts and won us all over from the moment Rita came crashing into Frank's life.




For 40 years Educating Rita has been a metaphor for the transformative power of education, and the student/teacher relationship. And while this  production is set very firmly back then in 1979, down to the corduroy jacket and the typewriter, Willy Russell’s classic is as fresh, relevant and funny as ever.

Everyone remembers the film version starring Michael Caine and Julie Walters, but this is a truly memorable piece of classic staging. What’s new is the bold move to premiere a national tour in Keswick, where discerning audiences have long been fed a rich diet of drama, and a pair of actors for whom this script might have been written, so effortlessly do they take on the roles.

Stephen Tompkinson is an aggressively cynical Frank, the university professor sliding scene by scene into a whisky-riddled existence touched by increasingly bitter humour. “I fell from the rostrum,” he recalls, of a drunken lecture, “but I fell talking”.

It’s a Pygmalion tale of self-improvement, except that Frank doesn’t really want to teach Rita, while she is desperate to better herself. She is Jessica Johnson, the hungry-to-learn Scouse hairdresser whose transformation is both cognitive and stylish, finding her true self as Frank’s role in her education becomes increasingly irrelevant. It’s a performance of fierce passion and defiant humour, revelations lighting up her face and her voice, to the moment of truth about her tutor: “You would rather see me as the peasant I once was.”

But Russell’s script is never demeaning of working class culture, his characters and his insight maintaining dignity with affectionate humour. And he himself has been involved throughout the rehearsal process, working with David Pugh (who was an assistant on the very first tour of Russell’s Blood Brothers in 1985). Pugh and Daffyd Rogers have worked in association with Theatre by the Lake here, with Max Roberts as director.

The play moves next week to Salford’s Lowry Theatre at the start of a national tour, but plays at Keswick until Saturday. It would be a tragedy to miss it, though Frank might take us to task over the meaning of that word. See it, to see what we mean.