The opening scene catches the audience’s attention in a number of different ways. Discuss how the playwrite, Willy Russell, has achieved this and whether he has been successful.
The opening scene of Educating Rita is one that really catches the audience’s attention in many different ways and to which some can relate to, be it through actions taken or through a character’s attitude. The scene deals with and introduces the problems of both Frank and Rita, without going into depth over either of the character’s troubles too soon. It is the instant clash of wit that catches the audience’s attention. Russell also uses stage direction aswell as his character’s personalities to keep information on these two characters flowing. He also uses symbolism as a further way of describing his characters without it being too obvious to his audience that he’s letting on more and more about them.
Act 1 scene 1 is the introductionary stage to Russell’s characters. In the first five minutes of this scene, we get to know Frank quite well. We learn that Frank is a university lecturer who appears to have grown tired of his job and the same old people. We see him searching the rows and rows of literature in his office for an author beginning with “E”; he then seems to decide he wants Dickens. Once he finds his collection of Dickens, he pulls them out, to reveal a bottle of Whiskey. We learn now that Frank also has a drinking problem. The phone then rings, just as Frank is about to take a swig of his Whiskey, and it turns out to be Julia, Frank’s girlfriend.
They have a conversation that increases in venom until there’s a knock at Frank’s door. Whoever is on the otherside of the door is having trouble making their way inside, and so Frank begins to get irritated with their posistant knocking after he has already said, “Come in..” a few times. Eventually Frank hangs up the phone and Rita (actual name: Susan White. Likes to be called Rita after the author of Rubyfruit Jungle, Rita Mae Brown) bursts into the room. This woman’s behavior and language stun Frank, until they get talking and realize they get on well. Soon we learn that Rita/Susan (a hairdresser) has signed up for an Open University course, and Frank is to be her tutor.
At first meeting, these two people appear to contrast greatly, but soon enough the audience begins to understand they have more in common than first thought. Frank is run down due to his heavy drinking, and his perception of the world is dim. He can no longer be bothered with his job, teaching the same old things, hearing the same old opinions and tutoring the same old people. His relationship with his girlfriend, Julia (an ex-student) is well and truly on the rocks, which the audience can tell from their frosty phone conversation at the beginning of the scene. Rita is also bored of her job. She’s bored of the same conversations with the same sort of people over the same sorts of haircuts. We don’t learn about Rita’s husband in scene 1, but things aren’t going well between them, like Frank and Julia.
Denny believes Rita should stay home, take care of the house and every couple of years have a child, the usual behavior for a housewife in the 1980s; he isn’t happy with Rita’s choice of enrolling in an Open University course at all. In Rita, Frank finds the breath of fresh air both he and his job need, and in Frank, Rita finds someone to support and listen to her throughout her studies. Despite these similarities between the pair, there are still differences. Rita’s idea of a classic novel is an erotic one (Rubyfruit Jungle) and her idea of a classic poet is Roger McGough. Frank’s main use for literature as Rita burst into his office is to hide his liquor, and he gave up on poetry long before Rita entered his life. Also, Rita is born-and-bred working class, whereas Frank is comfortable as Middle-class. This differ in social stature has an important effect on the language the two use and their accents. Still, nevertheless, the two click immediately.
The stage directions at the beginning of scene 1 are very important, as through them we can fully imagine the setting of Russell’s play. We are told that the scene is set in a Victorian-built university in the north of England, so immediately we sense some class about the attendee’s of this place. We then get a description of the room, which is important as we understand the symbolism Russell’s uses right from the beginning. The book itself tells use about both the setting and the props used, but nothing about music or costume.
In the film, directed by Lewis Gilbert, the music used is not something that could be found in the charts around the 1980s. It’s a string piece that helps in setting the scene of a university where the students are more than happy to act a class above their own. But, we have to consider that even though the music used in the film was perfect for setting the scene for the theme throughout the entire play, it’s only one director’s choice of music. The same goes for the costumes used in Gilbert’s production.
The audience’s attention is sub-consciously caught through Russell’s use of symbolism throughout the play. Frank’s office is a huge reflection on his own attitude. He hid his whiskey behind Dickens, and in real life he dodges the subject of his drinking problem with lines from classic literature. Also, nothing really has a place in Frank’s office, apart from his alcohol, also like real life. The more obvious symbolism used in scene 1 is Frank’s window and his door. His door can be thought of as the door to Frank himself. Its hinges are stiff, and so people have trouble getting past it, and always have done, but when Rita comes along, it’s different.
The more Rita goes to see Frank, and comes into contact with this door, the easier it is for her to get past it. At first she oils it, but eventually there’s no need for oil or force, it just opens. This is when Rita has broken through to Frank, and has worked her way through to his heart. This is something that no one has done before. Also, we could consider the door symbolism of Rita’s entry to higher education. She desperately wants to study, but neither her mother nor her husband think she should. The trouble Rita has getting the door open could symbolize the last obstacle. From then on she struggles with this education, and with the door, but in the end she finds both easy to handle.
The use of the window in Frank’s office symbolises a point in each character’s development. Rita is ambitious to be like other students in the university, after she watched them from Frank’s window. She watches them, and asks Frank whether they could have a tutorial on the grass, but she fails to convince Frank of the benefits. The window, like Frank “hasn’t been opened for generations.” Rita desires the breath of fresh air and wants to get educated. In contrast, Frank is more than content to remain isolated and remain in his insular office.
I believe the opening scene of Educating Rita is very effective when capturing the audience’s attention. The introduction of both characters’ traits, and how they react to each other’s opinions and personalities is both funny and moving throughout the play, but most interesting in this opening scene. This play also has underlying messages which make sense even nowadays, around 20 years after the play was written.
Such as Rita’s perseverance with her higher education instead of giving in to the stereotype of a woman at this time even though everyone around her (her mother and her husband) thinks she shouldn’t be enrolling in her Open University course. In this respect, Rita is admirable, and shows that anything can happen to anyone if they simply keep at it. The audience simply must keep reading, as together Rita and Frank spark. Rita can study without judgement, and Frank is happier around Rita than he has been for years. These two characters gradually learn to help each other, and it is that element of their relationship that keeps the audience interested.