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

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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 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

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Stephen Tompkinson as Frank 2019

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Some of the reviews for Educating Rita currently touring the UK highlight acoustic music played at various points throughout the play. The reference is to the variety of tracks selected by Willy Russell and Max Roberts to link the scenes throughout the play. Willy settled upon the idea of acoustic guitar tracks and then put together sections of instrumentals/intros/outros including from Nic Jones, Davey Graham, Johnny Dickinson and Paul Brady. Interestingly, there have been quite a number of enquiries from audience members wanting to know where the music was from so we have listed the tracks.

Canadee- I-O  
Nic Jones

Planxty Davis 
Nic Jones

Gowans are Gay
Johnny Dickinson

Davey Graham

Arthur McBride
Paul Brady

Lakes of Ponchatrain  
Paul Brady




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).

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

More Reviews HERE

and now at the resumption of the play in August 2020 at the Minack Theatre in Cornwall...


EDUCATING RITA at the Minack Theatre in Cornwall: 2020

The Minack open-air theatre, near Land’s End, is doing an actual play – a rare event indeed in this endless theatre drought. The planned tour was kyboshed by Covid but it has been salvaged for a run at this spectacular cliffside venue. I saw it in a high wind better suited to The Tempest: the actors’ hair was all over the shop, and the cast had to slide paperweights around to hold down Rita’s English Literature essays. 

Willy Russell’s play, celebrating its 40th anniversary, still works its magic, however.  Rita is the unhappily married Mersey hairdresser – or, rather, hurdresser – who, by doing an Open University course, seeks more from her life. Her literary criticism is initially from the hip. ‘Wasn’t his wife a cow?’ she says of Macbeth. Howards End is ‘really crap’. And as for Yeats, she thinks he’s a wine lodge. 

Jessica Johnson is an energetic, funny Scouse sass-pot – Julie Walters was, of course, the original Rita – who goes from being a blunt chisel to a honed critic. She partners well with that excellent light comic actor Stephen Tompkinson – warm, emphatic and pompous as her sozzled tutor Frank (the Michael Caine part in the film version), a failed poet who glugs whisky stashed behind Dickens and E.M. Forster in his book-lined den. It’s his job to discipline the mind of the irreverent student who wants to escape her life of curling tongs and married oppression. She of course ends up educating Frank. 

EDUCATING RITA at the Minack Theatre in Cornwall: 2020

It’s curious how you remember Rita’s more serious observations of literature over Frank’s professional judgments. Indeed, one of the themes here is that Rita is transformed, by her own thirst for literature, into a more optimistic version of Frank. The difference being that Rita has the moral courage that has deserted her tutor, whose  marriage is on the rocks and who wallows in Scotch topped up with self-pity. It is sharp-eyed Rita who comes at him with the burning question as to why he stopped writing poetry. That same question might well be asked about Willy Russell’s playwriting career; his absence from the stage in recent decades is one of the theatre’s great mysteries. He was a superb folk dramatist who seems to have run out of plays. 

If Educating Rita occasionally stretches belief – I never quite bought that this particular Frank had read all those books you can see lining his study – Russell crams in more soul and emotional clout than you get in much posher dramas about the emancipating power of literature. Forty years on, it still sounds witty and wise and you can feel the author’s love for Rita beaming through, just as it does in his later creation, Shirley Valentine. 

It’s a joy to revisit in this revival (by Max Roberts) set against knock-out views of a restless sea of the sort romantic poets bang on about.

The Daily Mail – Robert Gore-Kangton




Willy Russell’s hard-hitting comedy, Educating Rita comes to the Wolverhampton Grand Theatre this week, bringing laughter and tears in equal measure.

The playwright has that rare ability to blend sadness, sentiment, passion and humour together in order to produce outstanding passages guaranteed to stir emotions and provoke thoughts on often controversial or little discussed subjects.
His female equivalent is probably Carla Lane of Butterflies fame, who is also from Liverpool, so maybe it’s a Scouse talent? Who knows, but Russell’s compositions never disappoint.

The obvious comparison is the 1983 film version starring Julie Walters and Michael Caine, both of whom won awards for their performances as Rita and Frank, but in fact the work was originally a highly successful stage play which premiered in June 1980 at The Warehouse in London.

Susan, or Rita as she prefers to be known, is a working-class lass from Liverpool, hell bent on improving her social and educational skills, who takes an Open University course in English Literature. Enter Frank, a drunken, depressed, middle-aged lecturer who is less than happy about taking on a student who he has already decided is a waste of space and time.

But, Rita’s humour, determination and personality are so strong that during the course of their year together, their relationship grows and they have a profound effect on each other.

The play takes place in one set, a chaotic university study, and Patrick Connellan’s design should be applauded for its effective simplicity, while Drummond Orr’s efficient lighting effects makes for slick movement between the respective time periods of the scenes.

This is a two-hander and so the need to engage the audience from the off is imperative. No disappointments here, as Jessica Johnson in the title role allows her character to grow and evolve during the course of the play and offers a superbly natural performance, raising smiles one moment and then pricking tears in your eyes the next.

She rattles through the wordy, complex dialogue with ease, although at times her accent makes it difficult to catch every line, but there is no doubt the role is one of her best. Her comedic timing and energetic flow makes it a thoroughly amusing, enjoyable performance.

Stephen Tompkinson as Frank is as outstanding as you would expect from a prolific actor who is completely at home in both straight and comedy roles.
Frank is in fact a mixture of both, with a dark alcoholic side and witty, droll aspects of his character which emerge as Rita’s personality makes its mark.
Tomkinson perfectly portrays Frank, banishing all memories of previous actors in the role out of sight. He is surely one of this country’s best actors, both on screen and stage.

Educating Rita is ultimately a play about the British class system, women’s place in society, and emotional attachments, but mostly about friendship and respect. It’s unmissable.

Alison Norton – EXPRESS AND STAR


Educating Rita 2019


Frank is a bitter failed poet and university lecturer. His life is spiralling downwards as his drinking threatens to get out of control. Indeed, in order to finance his drinking, he says, he signs up as a tutor with the Open University and is allocated Susan – or Rita as she likes to call herself after her hero, Rita Mae Brown, writer of her favourite book, Rubyfruit Jungle. Peer pressure is a powerful thing: Rita felt pressured at school to fit an uncomfortable stereotype and leaves with no qualifications and soon marries. But she is a square peg in a round hole, aware that she could expand her horizons beyond just raising a family. She has a natural wit and love of language so she signs up with the Open University, the University of the Second Chance, to study literature and eager to learn, well, everything.

She bursts into Frank’s life and each has a profound effect on the other. Rita moves from a gauche housewife to an increasingly confident young woman who feels at home discussing literature with the students she encounters. How will Frank respond to the confident woman Rita has become?

Educating Rita deals with some big issues around society, schooling, expectations and aspirations. Rita knows she can do more but her desire to do that puts a strain on everything she has come to know and accept. Jessica Johnson brings naïve excitement and brash confidence to her portrayal of Rita. She is like a whirlwind, never still with hardly a filter between her brain and mouth. When she comes onstage it is as if a spotlight has been lit. Her speech is rapid as Rita’s thoughts battle to escape, though her accent, to a midlands ear, at least, doesn’t quite sound quite authentically scouse.

Stephen Tompkinson brings us Frank. At first a bit bewildered by Rita’s demands to be taught everything, his performance is nicely understated. Initially paternalistic, we see his changes of mood as Rita becomes more independent and seems to grow away from him, like an adolescent child, and his own fear that, maybe, he will lose this ray of light in his otherwise gloomy existence. Watching Educating Rita is like watching an acting masterclass, such is the quality of the performances.

The reason Educating Rita works so well, of course, is the quite sublime writing of Willy Russell. With an ear for dialogue and detail, Russell serves up a script that delivers comedy and poignancy. It would be easy for it to be condescending towards Rita and her ambitions, but Russell skilfully avoids that: both characters have their own flaws and it’s quickly clear that each has much to learn from the other. The story is told in a series of vignettes over a year so that we see Rita’s growing confidence alongside Frank’s increasing dependence on Rita. At one point, Frank compares himself to Mary Shelley, writer of Frankenstein although his tale also echoes that of Pygmalion.

Max Roberts’ direction is full of subtlety, supported by Patrick Connellan’s intricate design of Frank’s office. As the scenes change, Frank is rarely offstage, emphasising that he is some sort of constant force, at least in his own mind. In his shabby suit and unkempt tie, he looks every inch the defeated man. By contrast, Sam Newland’s costume designs for Rita reflect her emergence from the chrysalis as she moves from rather conservative skirts and jumpers to brightly coloured dungarees.

Educating Rita is at once uplifting and moving, retaining its relevance today, almost forty years after it first emerged and won the 1980 Olivier Award for Best New Comedy.  A superb night out.

Selwyn Knight – THE REVIEWS HUB


There's so many classic British plays floating around, it can be hard to find a time and a place to see them all. Educating Rita is fairly high up most peoples lists of 'must see's', so when it was announced the piece was visiting Wolverhampton, it was a bit of a no-brainer!

Written by Willy Russell, the man behind Blood Brothers - one of the longest running musicals in West End history - the plays follows the relationship between a 26-year-old Liverpudlian working class hairdresser and Frank, a middle-aged university lecturer, during the course of a year.

Susan (who initially calls herself Rita) is dissatisfied with the routine of her work and social life and seeks inner growth by signing up for an Open University course in English Literature. The play opens as 'Rita' meets her tutor, Frank, for the first time. Frank is a middle-aged, alcoholic career academic who has taken on the tutorship to pay for his drink. The two have an immediate and profound effect on one another and Frank is forced to re-examine his attitudes and position in life.

Conversely, Susan finds Frank's tutelage opens doors to a more laid back, bohemian lifestyle and a new self-confidence. However, Frank's bitterness and cynicism return as he notices Susan beginning to adopt the pretensions of the university culture he despises. Susan becomes disillusioned by a friend's attempted suicide and realises that her new social niche is rife with the same dishonesty and superficiality she had previously sought to escape.

Adapted into a film with Michael Caine and Julie Walters in 1983, the original production received the 1980 Olivier Award nomination for Comedy Performance of the Year and won for Comedy of the Year.

Stephen Tompkinson (Drop The Dead Donkey, ART) takes on the role of Frank and is simply sublime to watch. It's clear from the start that Tompkinson is an exquisite piece of casting for the role with superb dead-pan comedy and a skill at portraying eccentricity without it becoming a farce.

Playing opposite Tompkinson, Jessica Johnson plays Susan and brings a youthfulness to to the role that beautifully contrasts with Tompkinson. However, for me, whilst each performer is brilliant on their own, it's the chemistry between the duo in what is clearly a well rehearsed, slick performance, that really brings the piece to life.

This tour takes a classic and brings it to a contemporary audience - and that was evidenced by a theatre full of a real mix of ages; from older generations who most likely remember the original, to newer converts to straight plays who were possibly seeing this as their first foray into this type of theatre. Either way - they were in for a treat and the production certainly didn't disappoint.



Stephen Tompkinson as Frank 2019


Educating Rita is, by far, one of my favourite plays of all time. I absolutely adore Willy Russell’s work; his way of putting working class stories onto the stage is something I have always admired. 

Having spent four years of my life in Liverpool, and being a working class girl myself who never quite felt smart enough to go to University (still did though – maybe I was inspired by Rita herself?), I connect with the storyline of this play so much that when I left the theatre after the production, I felt like my heart could burst. 

Willy Russell’s hugely successful play premiered in June 1980 at The Warehouse in London, before becoming a film starring Michael Caine and Julie Walters – arguably the role that made her a household name. 

It follows the story of Frank, a down and depressed university lecturer who finds all his happiness at the bottom of a bottle. To pay for his drinking ways, he takes on a student through the Open University. Enter Rita, real name Susan, who is desperate to learn everything – really, everything – about English Literature quicker than you can say Charles Dickens. 

Rita, a working class Scouser, never cared much at school, because it wasn’t cool. But now late twenties, married and with a husband desperate for children, Rita realises that there has to be more to life. Applying for the university course is so much more than just learning academically, she’s on a mission to discover her true self. 

The play follows Rita’s insecurities, that she’s not smart enough or rich enough to study, turn into confidence, and knowledge. The charismatic, charming pocket rocket becomes smart and has intellectual conversations. At first, Frank loves seeing this side of her. He knows his work is actually working. 

However, over time, as Rita becomes more confident in her abilities, Frank becomes bitter and mean, not wanting to lose the one thing keeping him alive. 

 There’s just the two of them on stage for the whole show. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again, it always shows just how much talent there is on stage when just two people can keep the audience interested and engaged in their story.

Now, the talent! The role of Frank is taken on by Stephen Tompkinson, one of the country’s very best actors. He makes this role his own and it suits him to a T. His character goes from incredible highs to sudden lows throughout the play, and it just shows how much of an outstanding actor he is to be able to make the audience believe that he really is going through these emotions.

Rita is played by Jessica Johnson. What. A. Star. I absolutely adored Jessica’s take on this role. She did it absolutely perfectly. From the accent to the characteristics she has definitely picked up from Julie Walters role, she was just ideal for this role. She was able to make the audience completely fall in love with her, making us belly laugh as well as wiping the tears away. But the combination of both Stephen Tompkinson and Jessica Johnson was the perfect match. 

The set was simple but very effective, and Patrick Connellan’s design was filled from top to bottom with books – essentially my dream room – with mess scattered around the room and hidden bottles to show the issues Frank is facing without being too obvious. 

Another aspect of the show that I loved was the costumes, which showed the transition of Rita without being too noticeable. Rita goes from wearing heels and jumpers at the beginning to fun and stylish dungarees and jeans throughout the show, again showing that she was keen to reinvent herself and start again. 

Educating Rita made me feel so many emotions, and I couldn’t take my eyes off the stage for the whole show. It was hugely enjoyable, funny, heart-warming and I left feeling so inspired – and desperate to dig into a good book! It is a fantastic production, and a wonderful way to spend an evening. 

If you get the chance, you should absolutely go and see this show! 



I was excited to attend Educating Rita at the Wolverhampton Grand Theatre after hearing so much about it – it seems I am the only person I know who hasn’t seen the film, play, or studied it at school.

For those of you (like me!) who haven’t seen it before, Willy Russell’s 1980 play follows the story of twenty-something Liverpudlian hairdresser, Rita, who dreams of an education and sees it as a path to a better life. When she enrols in an Open University course in literature, she meets alcoholic tutor Frank and the story goes from there.

As tempting as it is to write in the style of one of Rita’s early essays – perhaps to just summarise the entire performance in one line – this show is deserving of a proper critique. 

The touring play is fresh from Inverness as it nears the end of its three month run. It’s a show that’s not to be missed, directed by Max Roberts, who has injected energy into a touching play that remains relevant almost 40 years after it was written. 

Though acted by just two cast members, Jessica Johnson as Rita and Stephen Tompkinson as Frank, their presence and energy fills the entire stage. Johnson’s body language tells as much of the story as her prose – she moves from window to chair to desk in a way that is almost mesmerising. 

The two leads move deftly between comedy and tragedy, giving an emotional and intense performance, to make you both laugh and cry. Perfectly cast, it’s difficult not to relate to some of the characteristics of each character. Johnson and Tompkinson’s chemistry led to snappy comic timing and made the difficult moments all the more heart wrenching. 

Even as a newcomer to the play, I didn’t miss the significance of the costume changes – or lack of thereof. Clever too is the set, which appears straightforward on the surface, but there are lots of hidden surprises. 

While I resisted the urge to write in the style of Rita’s early essays, I will leave you with a quote from Frank “You MUST go to the theatre!” But be quick, the show will soon move on to Wakefield.