Rita- UK-Tour-2019Rita-UK-Tour)2019

playwright singer/songwriter author news gallery guestbook links whatson

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


Return to the PLAYWRIGHTS page...

Frank (Stepe=hen Tompkinson) in the chair

Frank and Rita relaxing

Jessica Johnson as Rita 2019

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

Jessica Johnson as Rita and Stephen Tonkinson as Frank

Return to the NEWS page...

Stephen Tompkinson as Frank 2019

Read more reviews HERE...




Educating Rita 2019

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).

Jessica Johnson previously played Rita in Rebecca Cast Rita, Theatre by the Lake 2019Frecknall’s 2017 production of Educating Rita at the Gala Theatre, Durham. Her television credits include Wire In The Blood (ITV), Coronation Street (ITV) and Cuckoo (Channel 4).


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.

Jessica Johnson as Rita: 2019

Latest 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. It feels like witnessing an original production for the first time. '



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


Stephen Tompkinson as Frank 2019


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

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