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Willam Russel is a British playwright who is eminent for the production of many plays; his best known works are Educating Rita, Blood Brothers and Shirley Valentine. Russell was born and raised in Whinston, on the outskirts of Liverpool. He came from a working class background and some of his experiences as a youngster are reflected in his works, such as within the play Educating Rita. As a young adult, Russell only had experience and knowledge of manual work and left college with having only achieved one O-Level in English Literature.
Being from a working class family, his mother had then suggested the concept of training to become a woman’s hairdresser. This was a typical working class job which had low pay and was generally looked down upon. Russell felt trapped due to his working class status; he was still unsatisfied with his lifestyle and began to seek a career that provided greater opportunities to learn and make a greater contribution to society. He was a young person who showed initiative and soon took action and decided to become a student.
Though despite the efforts that he was making, Russell’s life was still greatly impacted by his social class; he couldn’t afford student fees and the Education Authorities refused to fund him or offer a scholarship. However, he remained adamant that he was going to break the class boundaries and achieved this by spending some time working in Fords Car Company to fund his studies. As a result of his determination, by the age of twenty, Russell had enough qualifications to become employed as a teacher.
Indeed, this is where he got his inspiration for the characters of Rita (a hairdresser) and Frank (a lecturer) because he had experienced of these careers and an insight into the emotions that they would’ve felt. Russell has interpreted the character of Rita as a duplicate of himself in his early years and Frank represents the level of education that he achieved in later life. Educating Rita can be compared with many other of Willy Russell’s plays; this is because majority of his work focuses on the issue of different classes within society.
For example, the musical Blood Brothers is about the lives of fraternal twins who were separated at birth. Due to their separation, the two twin boys grew up with different backgrounds and this took them to opposite ends of the social spctrum. As a result of this, one brother became unemployed and in prison and the other became an well paid and respected councilor. There are connections between this play and Educating Rita because Rita and Frank are also at opposite ends of the social spectrum.
Another connection is that both of these plays explore the importance of love; in Educating Rita the audience learns that Frank has had his heart broken and is now in a loveless relationship and Rita splits up from her husband because they want different things in life. This shows that Rita values her education more than her relationship and is therefore willing to sacrifice this in order to improve her life. Whereas in the play Blood Brothers, Russell portrays love as something that is of great value and that should be cherished.
Russell shows that the two brothers are willing to risk everything for love; as a consequence this is that the play ends in tragedy when they both fall for the same girl. There are also connections betwteen Educating Rita and Willy Russell’s play Shirley Valentine. This is a one-character play about the life of a working class housewife from Liverpool and therefore, alike in Educating Rita, Russel has inclued an aspect of his own life. Shirley feels trapped, alone and unappreciated; this is similar to Rita because both women are fed up with their lives and want to improve them.
Shirley is also similar to Rita because they both discover that they have to make sacrafices and an effort to achieve their goals. Both women also represent the changing roles of women in society. During the eightiess there was great reform and women began to show that they were capable members of society. The twentieth century began as a wave of revolution for the females in society; including the suffragist movement and an ever increasing amount of feminists.
The actions of these women contributed to the change of attitudes and laws were eventually enforced to ensure that both sexes were valued and treated equally. This included things such as new guidelines from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission which were enforced in 1980 and prohibited sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace. This had led to great changes in the lifestyles of women, who were no longer bound to their households or deemed unworthy to carrying out manual work or labour.
Instead, they were out there, among the masses, making a difference and trying to change the way they were viewed. Indeed, the actions of these women encouraged others such as Rita and Shirley to become educated and prove that they were worthy. Educating Rita was commissioned by the Royal Shakespear Company and premiered at the Warehouse in London in 1980. This play earned Russel a great deal of recognition and won the Society of West End Theatres Award for best comedy. From this point on, Educating Rita was made into a film and has continued to be performed in theatres across the globe.
In the opening scenes of this play, Russel has addressed the issue of class and shown that anyone is capable of achieving their goals and breaking the class boundaries. The play involves two main characters, Rita and Franck; Russel has shown a great contrast between these two characters and both come from very different classes in society. Rita is a twenty six year old working class hairdresser who applies to study with the Open University. The play follows just over a year in Rita’s life and shows her gradual progress in an English Literature course.
Again, Russell has incorporated an aspect of his own life because he himself took this qualification. This type of course was recently developed at the time and allowed poorer people to afford further education whilst working it around their daily hours. The Open University was also very popular in Britain because it accepted majority of people regardless of their previous academic achievements or intellect. This allowed the less fortunate members of society to have the opportunity to improve their lives.
At first Rita knew that she wanted to do the course but had self doubt and lacked any initiative. Rita hadn’t been disciplined or been taught how to critically analyse work from an objective point of view. Therefore, majority of her early work was based upon personal opinions and experiences-which is a subjective point of view. On the other hand, Frank has an entiterely different life from Rita; he is a middle aged, middle class English lecturer in a University who bases his ideas purely on objective knowledge and intellect.
Frank shows numerous clichi??d characteristics of the middle class; he is a reserved, formal, highly educated and wealthy man. However, he is miserable and doesn’t seem to value this; it is immedtialy evident that he takes his lifestyle for granted. Futhermore, Frank also makes it known to the audience that he has taken on the additional responsibility of tutoring Rita in order to pay for his drinking habit. However, this also gives indications that he is trying to escape his drab homelife because being from a middle class background, Frank would undoubtedly be able to afford this habit whether he tutored Rita or not.