'Educating Rita' Play by Willy Russell

Educating Rita is a drama which was first published as a play in 1983, written by Willy Russell; subsequently, it was made into a film which quickly became a box-office hit. The play consists of a particular theme (education) and it explores the processes that inflict change upon the main character Rita. The content of the storyline was considered to be quite controversial and diverse for it’s time in that particular society.

The Conservative party was presently in power and Margaret Thatcher was elected Prime Minister (The first ever female in English History to be appointed that particular position); Many people had varying opinions of this political status because woman were not usually considered to be ‘suited’ to that specific role.

Before the 1980’s, family values were viewed very differently in comparison to our morals and religious views today.

The circumstantial generation back then were rather stereotypical and judgemental towards women; they were expected to get married, have children and act as a comprehensive housewife while their hard-working husbands were out earning a living to support the family financially.

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However, a little while after Margaret Thatcher was elected, laws and social views changed significantly. The female Prime Minister encouraged young women to broaden their education and independently take on what was considered to be ‘male roles’ in the progressive world of employment.

Women were becoming more independent. This is exactly what influenced Rita in the play; she is eager to find her own place in society and she proved that the only way she could do this, was to gain an education and embark on a Literature course at the local Open University.

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At this stage, Rita is unaware of the challenges she is yet to face; it becomes clear to the audience that her Family (her husband Denny in particular), are rather sceptical towards her new-found attitude.

Denny seems to be rather aggravated at the thought of Rita neglecting him for education; he does not hesitate to express his opinions on the matter in order to emotionally black-mail her to adjust her philosophical way of thinking. “It’s dead easy Susan – you stop going to that University and stop taking the pill or you’re out. ” This extract from the script portrays Denny as slightly insensitive and it reveals to us that he is quite inconsiderate towards Rita’s feelings.

Many viewers may think that Rita’s husband is jealous of the relationship she starts to develop with Frank, (her University lecturer). Throughout the play, Frank makes a lot of contributions towards the change in Rita’s character. In the scene where they are both discussing her issues with Denny, Frank mentions a particular phrase which his ex-wife once said to him after their divorce: “You are having an affair with literature. ” This comment strikes a chord with Rita and her current situation. Denny still calls Rita by her birth name ‘Susan’ to prove a point that he knows her best.

The reason why Susan changes her name to Rita, is because her favourite writer was named ‘Rita Mae Brown’ this impulsive name change made her feel more intelligent; it encouraged her to persist and follow in the footsteps of the socially accepted footsteps of an educated citizen. This act was clearly not approved of by her husband, but we begin to notice that Rita’s personality is changing – she starts to develop her own peace of mind. “I wanna learn and pass exams like they do” This line from Rita accentuates her motivation to change and become a better person.

By critically analysing the language that Willy Russell exerts on each individual, we can develop a conceptualised interpretation of the change that the main character goes through. Throughout the first few scenes in the play, Rita’s language is rather bold and explicit ‘I’ll say something like, “I’m really fucked,” dead loud and it doesn’t half cause a fuss’ this language is quite substandard and many educated people would frown upon it. Towards the end of the play, however, Rita’s dialect becomes a lot more sophisticated. “I had a choice.

I did the exam. Because of what you’d given me, I had a choice. ” She is emphasising her own achievements and at the same time she is searching for publicity. Rita’s accent is another factor that changes significantly. Before she attends the University, her pronounced Liverpudlian accent dominates her speech; this reflects her personality as careless and dramatic. When she first arrives at Frank’s office, her conversation consists of something completely irrelevant: the fact that she could not enter with ease because of the door-handle.

When she talks like this we get the idea that she isn’t very open-minded. After achieving a well-earned education, her characteristic accent starts to fade away; the tone of her voice depletes, she stops swearing and her use of speech is more literate. This dramatic change was quite surprising because you couldn’t imagine her with a more sophisticated etiquette. Willy Russell creates Rita’s character in a way which reflects her working-class background. He writes her speech using different techniques to make her sound undignified and distasteful.

She tends to use a lot of immature words and she often swears at the start, “There’s no suppose about it, look at those tits! ” This careless statement suggests that her upbringing did not consist of a high standard. It also tells us that she takes advantage of the principles of ‘freedom of speech’ Rita’s appearance changes progressively during different stages of her educational journey. At the beginning of the play, we see her wearing a bright pink skirt partnered by a girly blue shirt.

These bold colours make her stand out from the crowd, but in the wrong way; her choice of clothing makes her look a bit childish and playful. This makes the audience doubt her aspirations to become educated. On returning from Summer School in France, Rita’s appearance, once again, has noticeably changed; she now looks like a proper student. Willy Russell puts Rita’s character in more neutral colours to exemplify and indicate the transformations she experiences. After this stage in the play, she continues to sail through a sea of change.

On her results day we see her in a smart, formal outfit which looked more neat and presentable. In this particular scene, the audience notice the overall change in Rita. She even adjusts her statement blonde hair to transform her image completely. In order to produce an engaging effect on the audience during the play, Willy Russell involves certain stagecraft techniques which spark a reaction; these clever techniques make the play a lot more intriguing and they assist in indicating even the smallest changes to Rita’s character.

Some of these techniques include: stage directions (positions for the actors, as well as the actions they will need to adopt), the intentional use of colour (to reflect the characters moods), the use of sound (to create an atmosphere) and varied use of lighting (in order to capture the attention of the audience and direct it towards certain actors on the stage). All of these stagecraft techniques are used in a structured combination to enable the play to flow like a story. Willy Russell involves Rita in a lot of scenes that use most, or all of the stagecraft conventions.

In the first few scenes in which she enters the University grounds, Rita is wearing prominent stiletto heels that she cannot walk in properly; in addition to this, she stumbles over the cobbled paths in a tousled manor, searching for her required location (The lecture room). While she is in this atmosphere, among the other students, she looks rather out of place. Towards the end of the play however, we notice that Rita can walk with stability and confidence; she holds her head up high and she starts to fit in with the other students.

When Rita first approaches the room where her lectures take place, she has difficulty in entering with ease; the door-handle seems to be stiff and it’s reluctant to open up for her. This action was performed intentionally to show us that she is starting en educational journey which will put her quirky personality to the test. It is also a metaphorical way of expressing the difficulties people may face with education; (even in the present day, people that portray similar attributes to Rita are affected by the drawbacks of academic progression).

A few scenes later, we can see that Rita is making some form of progress; she starts to tackle the factors that are holding her back. “Oh hello, I was just oiling it for ya” (Rita is attempting to fix the troublesome door) though she is not only oiling the door, in a metaphorical context she is oiling the foundations of her learning. The use of lighting is crucial because it assists in setting the actors an atmosphere to work with. The lighting techniques are also factors that indicate transformations in the main character.

Once Rita has settled in on her educational journey, she begins to express signs of confidence and dedication. When she walks through an arched doorway in the gardens of the University, bright lights are directed towards the area that she accompanies; this is very effective technique is very powerful in the sense that it focuses all of the attention on her. At this point, there are no barriers that are preventing her from making progress. Rita is in the limelight and she intends to stay in that position. Unfortunately for Rita, this period of confidence does not stay around for long.

Yet again, she faces another drawback to her educational expedition; we are introduced to a scene in which Denny pursues a raging temper and burns her books. Many people would find this quite ironic as it relates to current affairs in which people burn the books of opposing religions (this is usually done intentionally when a certain minority of people disagree with a different culture). Similarly, Denny disagrees with what his wife is taking part in; his selfish, hollow-hearted act almost leads Rita to an emotional breakdown.

In this particular scene, Rita is staring through the window-pane watching Denny throw her Literature texts onto the fire. The roaring flames create a reflection on the window and you can almost picture the elegant words of poetry floating of the pages and into the air. This dramatic period of action is accompanied by a soft piece of music (produced by David Hentschel). This scene was by far the most significant in the context of stagecraft; all of the techniques were put together to create an overall emphasis on the emotions and changes on the main character.

Another scene which involved a significant amount of stagecraft was the one in which Rita cannot bring herself to enter Frank’s communal supper. We gain the sense that she felt like she wouldn’t fit in with the higher class citizens, so instead of making her presence known, she stands alone outside in a state of self-pity; unaware of the gloomy atmospheric conditions around her, she places a hand-written note on Franks car explaining her reasons for absence.

Following this action, the clouds start to draw in and it pours down with rain. This atmosphere created the effect of pathetic fallacy; the ink which lies embedded into Rita’s note, becomes diluted by the raindrops. Her words flow out of the paper into meandering streams of deep blue. Whilst Rita reluctantly walks away, tears of sadness start to descend down her cheeks. This strong imagery reflects the emotional changes that Rita experiences; Willy Russell wants us to notice this so that we feel sympathetic towards the main character.

In conclusion, I would say that Willy Russell was very successful at conveying change in the main character. He produced an exciting, yet deeply emotional tale which highlights the philosophical context of the early 1980’s; I found it relatively easy to make links with the social views from the past, to the present day; By doing this, I was able to understand how Rita changed during certain periods of time. I think this play would be suitable for anyone as it covers such a broad range of themes.

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'Educating Rita' Play by Willy Russell. (2020, Jun 02). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/educating-rita-play-by-willy-russell-essay

'Educating Rita' Play by Willy Russell

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