Willy Russell in his play ‘Educating Rita’ Essay
Willy Russell in his play ‘Educating Rita’
Educating Rita by Willy Russell explores the relationship between the two characters involved in the play, Frank and Rita over a time span, of several months. A variety of themes are explored as Rita, a working class Liverpudlian, aspires to a higher social and academic level so that she may have choices, with Frank, a disillusioned and failed poet as her teacher.
As Rita progresses, Russell uses a range of dramatic techniques and tensions between the two characters to explore themes of the personal, class, relationships, gender, dependence, superiority and education. This produces an effective and dramatic piece with clear character and plot development. The play could be staged in a number of ways, and when considering how staging would best reflect the themes and passage of time, I must consider set, costume and lighting, as well as how each of the characters should play their part.
The play focuses mainly on the relationship between Frank and Rita, and the structure shows a clear crossover within their respective roles. Frank is initially the ‘dominant male’ with more knowledge and experience than Rita; he is the well-educated and confident lecturer to whom Rita comes to for help to become educated. By the end of the play the roles are reversed, with Rita as the dominant educated character, with every option available to her, whereas Frank, who has turned to drink, is barely able to hold down his job. Within this structure, the interaction between the characters explores the themes mentioned above, which have both significance for them, as well as for the audience who are able to identify with the issues discussed. The way that the characters change as the plot develops shows what effect their different experiences have upon them, and how they shape the people that they have become by the end of the play.
By choosing two scenes from different points in the play we can see how themes generated in an early part of the play are later developed as the characters progress. I chose Act one, scene two to explore first, as it is after the two characters have already been established. Their behaviour reflects certain themes as the second scene begins. There is also a significant incident involving poetry Frank has written, which has a link with the later scene I have chosen, truly reflecting how the two characters have changed. While the first scene establishes the main themes of education and aspiration on Rita’s part, Scene two really begins to explore such themes as well as exploring others to a higher degree.
The scene begins in Frank’s office, as always, with Frank waiting for Rita to arrive, ‘(he) glances at his watch.’ He is interrupted by a noise at the door, which turns out to be Rita oiling his study door for him, as she has noticed that it needs it. The way in which she comments, ‘knew you wouldn’t get round to it’ establishes the theme of gender stereotypes running through some of the play, and conveys the idea to the audience of Rita’s housewifely mentality and motherly instinct, with Frank’s stereotypical male nature of allowing her to do the work for him. As Rita then proceeds to look around Frank’s office, and he watches her, it is clear how he views her from how he watches ‘Slightly amused’ which indicates that he is entertained by her, and clearly views her as naive and unsophisticated when compared to him.
The way Frank responds to her influences how the audience would respond, as the majority watching a professional production of this play would probably identify with Frank rather than Rita. Assuming it is a professional production, the majority of the audience would be middle class. However, although at the start they may identify with Frank, Willy Russell’s intent as the two characters develop is to challenge the audience’s attitudes towards each.
The themes of gender and superiority are closely linked here, and run throughout this scene.
Typically, Rita, a young and impressionable young women, and Frank, an older educated man with a greater social position, she is naturally inclined to look up to him. Even if they were both middle class and educated, Rita would still probably view him of the superior of the two, and this opinion is reinforced by the mention of Frank’s girlfriend, ‘Julia.’ He says she ‘admires him tremendously,’ and mentions how she cooks and, ‘cares’ for him. Julia is an ex-student, yet both respond in the same way to Frank, trying in a sense to, ‘mother’ him and he accepts this, both sexes following their stereotypical roles. The way Rita sees him as superior in the same sense as Julia brings up the theme of gender conflict, alongside class and social status, and is another reason why Rita sees him as superior and above mundane tasks.
After oiling the door, Rita’s next action reinforces this relationship. She refuses to sit down in the chair with ‘its ‘back to the door’ conveys how unsophisticated and insecure she is. The way that Frank offers her his chair, but she refuses with her comment, ‘You’re the teacher’ shows how she sees their separate roles, with him with a greater status, again introducing the theme of superiority. Rita even feels Frank’s taste is superior to hers, ‘That’s ‘cos you’ve got taste.’
Although Frank has not yet commented how he feels that he is superior to Rita in terms of both education and class, the way he responds to her clearly shows how he feels they are not on equal terms. The fact that Frank is amused by Rita wondering whether or not she has reformed him reflects this, and throughout the scene he uses education as a resource to demonstrate his superiority. Rita is often ignorant of the phrases or words that Frank uses, for example ‘a certain patina’ and he often corrects her in terms of the words she uses,’ Foster’ for ‘Forster’.
As well as demonstrating through her ignorance of language that she is not like other students, Rita makes it known to the audience that she is not ignorant enough to not realise it. She comments on, ‘the proper students’ and although it could be taken in terms of her meaning the students who go to the university all the time, without other obligations, she knows that she is in a different situation (she comments in the first scene, ‘Degrees for dishwashers’) and is probably comparing herself and her knowledge to theirs. The audience draw comparisons between Rita and Frank in terms of their behaviour and knowledge, and as the scene progresses the audience are made more aware of the different upbringings they must have had.
Just before this however, there is a section of the scene in which Russell uses the language of each character to demonstrate their different social status. Rita comments ‘Readin and studyin’ just after her comments on proper students, and Frank responds with the same phrase, ‘Reading and studying.’ The fact that phrase is repeated by Frank in succession makes the audience properly aware of how differently they speak, and Rita’s native Liverpool accent is made evident with this clear contrast to Frank’s more refined voice.
The phrase Rita then uses, ‘off me cake’ which Frank responds to by questioning its meaning, is done so in such a way as that the audience knows he is being sarcastic, yet Rita does not seems to realise immediately. However, when Frank uses the phrase in a sentence of his own, Rita realises how he is being sarcastic, ‘it’d sound dead affected’ again highlighting the difference between them herself. This interaction demonstrates the different upbringing and environment they have been exposed to, and Frank does not only use his gender and age to appear superior, but through sarcasm and superiority in his use of language demonstrates how he knows he is.
The themes of social class and education occur once more in Rita’s next few speeches. During them, the way she sharpens Frank’s pencils again reminds the audience of gender stereotyping, the automatic tidying up, or carrying out of tasks that he is perfectly capable of doing himself, as well as showing how she is uneasy. Rita then conveys the sort of education she must have had from the description of her school, and how she was not really allowed to educate herself, which Frank cannot fully understand as someone for whom education has obviously always been available. He does not understand why she could not be different from her friends, and through this we see the gulf between their two upbringings, highlighting the theme of social contrast.
Frank then passes her his ashtray to sharpen pencils, but the way she ignores it indicates how preoccupied she is, and how she really does have something important to say. Her ensuing monologue shows how she feels she wants more, ‘is this the absolute maximum I can expect from this livin’ lark’.’ The activities she speaks of ‘club to go to’ to distract herself seem so unlikely the activities that Frank would indulge in that it seems as if he must have his life sorted and she is the one floundering, with what she really wants beyond her grasp.
Frank cannot resist one more piece of sarcasm at the end of her outburst, to reassert himself as superior, and her wants as pathetic and of no value, ‘you managed to resist another new dress?’ But Rita again does not realise. By the end of this section of the scene the audience know a lot more about Rita and her character. It is clear that at the start of her education she appears stereotypical in terms of her gender, but not in terms of who she is and what she aspires to be. This re- establishes the theme of aspiration already suggested as Rita claimed she wanted to learn, ‘Everything.’ Her speech about knowing how there was always something tapping away in her head, knowing she might have got it wrong indicates prior conflict within herself, but the fact that she has now come to be educated shows how this conflict has been resolved, and education is the way she will be able to become the person she wants to be, and she sees Frank as an example of that person. The conflict will later extend from herself to the rest of her family, and as she becomes alienated from them. The second half of the scene reveals more about Frank’s feelings and character, not just concentrating on his surface sense of superiority.
The next incident explores the theme of conflict between the personal and the impersonal. Frank informs her that to write a good essay she must learn the art of criticism, which is ironic, as ultimately she will learn to criticise, and Frank will be the object of it. The way Frank informs her that good criticism is never subjective, and is ‘almost a science’ is reflected in Frank’s character. He does not wish to involve himself, he wishes to remain absolute from his own feelings. Here the theme of the personal is really introduced as the next part of the scene really shows how each character deals with personal early on in the play.
Conflict is initiated as it appears Rita is quite intent on dealing with the personal, and Frank has never come across such a view, ‘astounded’ The way Rita comments on Forster, ‘Sitting up there in his ivory tower’ encourages the audience to draw parallels between him and Frank, who also wishes to distance himself from the world, using alcohol as his escapism, and is in a sense sitting in his own, ‘tower.’ He wants no subjectivity or sentimentality, and this is shown in the way he interacts with Rita, using attempts to be witty and sarcasm to evade the personal, as can be observed later in the scene. Throughout the play both characters struggle with the personal, Rita attempting to become distant and Frank to be in touch with his feelings.
Before moving onto Frank’s marriage we see an example of how Frank also follows his stereotype, returning to the theme of gender. He comments of Rita that she has an undisciplined mind, which men often seem to think that that women have, and that they are disorganised and, ‘scatty’ in general. Rita ignores the comment and immediately moves back to the personal,’ are you married?’ Frank answers reluctantly, stalling the question, but Rita refuses to accept this, and continues pressing Frank for personal information. He is reluctant to deal with the personal side of life, however, and when explaining why he broke up with his wife, he uses a reason which he presumes to be clever and witty, but which actually just makes evident to the audience how he is distancing himself from the pain of the break up, and presuming he is above it all. ‘We split up, Rita because of poetry’
The way in which Frank says she left him for the ‘good of literature’ and how the result was that he stopped writing at all is a use of dramatic irony, which is lost on Rita, however, and is there for the audience’s appreciation. Rita refuses to accept his explanation, however, and even Frank admits they perhaps people do not split up for that reason. The way that that is how he ‘remembers it’ simply shows that is how it is constructed in his mind, and he has created the fantasy to remove feelings connected with the event. The most obvious contrast between Frank and Rita in his scene is the way they deal with feelings, with Frank refusing to have anything to do with things of a personal nature, and Rita connecting everything to its emotional impact.
After dealing with themes largely of a personal and impersonal nature, Russell reverts to the theme of superiority with reference to education, as Rita wishes to look at Frank’s poetry, but he denies her access of grounds of not having the ‘literary references.’ This has reference to the theme of the personal also, as Frank’s poems are clearly very personal to him and he does not wish to show his emotional side to anyone. We next see another side of Frank, however, as Rita praises him, ‘…you’re great’ and he says how there is less of him than meets the eye. Through this comment we see how Frank sees himself as somewhat of a fraud, however, Rita does not get the deeper meaning of his reply, she simply admires the way he can construct a phrase like that, and as often happens in this scene, the audience, understanding Frank, should have one level of meaning, while Rita has another.
This also occurs later in the scene, when Frank comments that he would like to take Rita by the hand and, ‘run out of this room forever.’ Rita thinks he is merely being sarcastic, yet the audience can see the deeper level of meaning in his words, in that he feels trapped and unhappy. Frank appears to Rita the epitome of successful. He is middle class and educated, what she is aspiring to, yet from his reluctance to deal with anything other than scientific or involving feelings the audience can see how he is dissatisfied and in denial over many aspects of his life. Rita does not see this yet however, she merely sees his status as a professor, his sarcasm and evasion as witty tools of a learned man, not yet suspecting that unhappiness is the cause.
The end of the scene does revel Rita as different from the common throng however. The audience draw a parallel between a bird she describes, ‘dead out of place our way’ and her, and by the end of the scene she has even begun to adapt Frank’s sarcastic tones, doing a parody of an academic question. The audience see that although she s totally different from Frank in terms of class, and education, their relationship has begun to develop over the bond they form. Frank sees in Rita something he has not seen in a student before, and Rita feels that Frank is the kind of tutor she needs. Earlier in the play she refused to accept another one.
As the play progresses we see how the themes established early on in the play are developed by Russell through his two characters. They develop through the changes they undergo in their lives as well as the effect they have upon each other, and reflect the themes established at the beginning of the play. As Rita becomes more educated she fulfils her aspirations, leaving her hairdressers’ job to work in a Bistro and making a successful transaction to the middle classes, whereas Frank degenerates, more and more frequently turning to alcohol. The theme of dependence running throughout the play has begun by the second act to invert, in that whereas Rita was once dependant on Frank for all her educational needs, the time she spends during the summer at a literacy camp symbolises how she no longer needs to rely on him as much.
She has already learnt about the poet Blake, for example, that Frank was planning to teach her about specially. Frank becomes more dependant on her, and as she breaks away, losing her individuality, as he sees it, to become a ‘proper student’ he regrets ever educating her, and in despair turns to alcohol. As soon as Rita begins to become properly educated the relationship between the two begins to break down, and although class and education are still the main themes, it is no longer the contrast between Frank and Rita in terms of these themes that is evident, but how Rita has risen more to the same social and educational stance.
As well as education being an ongoing theme, which changes the outlook of both, contrasting class is also a theme that features largely until the end of the play. Conflict and class, as well as gender conflict are closely linked throughout. At the play’s opening it is clear that Frank and Rita are from different social classes. The way Frank uses this to assert his superiority could cause conflict between the two, except for the fact that Rita has accepted she is initially different from Frank, and seems to see his status as a warrant for his behaviour. Rita is obviously eager to learn however, so Frank tries to be tolerant, and as she improves he begins to accept her as more of an equal to him so conflict between the two over class is more minimal than it could be.
Within Rita’s own circle however, the conflict is obviously rife. As Rita develops as a person, the conflict with her husband and family increases. Her husband even burns her books in protest over her trying to break away from what he feels she should accept as her station in life, ‘He burnt all me books.’ As Rita becomes more educated, in order for it to have an effect she has to change herself, and a husband feels that she has in a sense betrayed him.
Conflict connected with class also occurs later in Act One as Frank and Rita’s friendship progresses. Frank invites Rita for dinner at his house, with her husband, Denny. As well as this causing conflict between the married couple, in that Denny refuses to come due to his antipathy to the course and those connected with it, he blames them from distancing him from Rita, Rita suffers conflict within herself about attending, centred chiefly on the wine she brings. She knows it is the wrong sort after she has bought it, and although it might appear to be a superficial detail, to Rita it symbolizes how little she knows about this kind of society and how to behave in such situations.
It demoralizes her and she wonders how she can ever leave her social status and rise to Frank’s. She decides to not return to the course, however, her mother changes her mind.. Her mother crying and saying there must be better songs to sing (Rita’s family and friends had been singing in the pub) really symbolizes how there must be a better life to lead, which encourages Rita to try and aspire to that hope, and so she returns to the course.
Rita also experiences much gender conflict within her family. From the first scene Rita mentions how she is expected, at the age of twenty-six to settle down and have a family. Yet she rebels against this idea, even secretly using contraception, and her refusal to accept what her husband sees as her role eventually leads to the breakdown of her marriage, which allows her to, ‘find herself’ even further. However, as she does try to find herself, using other people to develop her personality, this causes ever-growing conflict between her and Frank, which reaches its climax towards the end of the play. Apart from Rita, Frank’s main conflict is involved with the university and students themselves, as he bitterly continues to drink with their disapproval.
By Act two, scene five, very near the close of the play, we can clearly see how both characters have developed and how they now interact with each other. The first thing Rita says to Frank upon entering his room is, ‘are you sober, are you?’ and the way in which a whisky bottle is placed in front of him indicates the extent of his dependency on the drink. Now he can no longer rely on Rita to give him hope and entertain him he has become even more dependant on the alcohol, which is plaguing his career. Frank, even now cannot resist a sarcastic comment, which Rita ignores and proceeds to tell Frank what she thinks of his poetry.
The fact that Frank has given Rita his poetry to look at is a very significant act, which shows real character development on both sides. Earlier in the play Frank denied Rita access to his poetry, on the grounds of her not understanding literary terms. The fact that he has given them to her, and has seriously asked her for a critical analysis shows how much she must have progressed in terms of her education. Whereas she was once ignorant in this area, Frank has now deemed her sufficiently able to comment on them, and regardless of his motive, we can see how her character has developed in order that she can appreciate such work.
However, on another level, Frank giving Rita his poetry shows how he has developed as a person also. As well as indicating he no longer feels his skills are superior to hers, the emotional angle of his action indicates that he is no longer dealing with only the objective side of things. By giving Rita his poetry to look at, Frank is exposing his emotional side. His poetry is such a personal thing to him that it is the most significant thing he can do, to show how he is willing to expose his vulnerable side to her as opposed to other people. By asking for a ‘critical assessment of a lesser known English poet’ Frank knows that what she says will ultimately depend upon the outcome of their relationship.
The way Rita analyses the poems clearly shows how she has developed in terms of her education, the main theme running throughout the play. The language she uses, ‘witty/profound’ to describe the poem is a complete development of the simple terms she used earlier in the play. The fact that she can understand Franks work as opposed to the poetry she used to enjoy, ‘It’s the sort of poetry you can understand’ shows how she has developed her literary knowledge. However the way she quotes her flatmate, ‘Trish’ when commenting on the poetry, shows how from having Frank as her only mentor and teacher at the start of the play, she has now developed a critical style from others also. Rita herself admits how she would not have understood the poetry previously, and the way she is sure she can now see ‘wit and classical allusion’ in it indicates that as her education has progressed she has adapted accepted educational views of such works.
The audience are next reminded of the aspirational theme, as they can compare how Rita would have reacted then and now from Frank’s comments, ‘You would have thrown it across the room.’ The way Frank’s sarcasm still washes over Rita indicates how she can see nothing wrong with her situation. She comments that she can, ‘see now’ shows how her opinions of herself and her life have changed, she is no longer so discontented, and she sees nothing wrong with the social standing she now has. Frank’s allusion to ‘Frankenstein,’ however, shows he feels that what he has created is a terrible thing, that he has made Rita a ‘monster’ and his assessment of his poetry gives a deeper insight into his feelings. Frank denounces his poetry as ‘worthless talentless shit,’ simply posing as something witty and clever.
His poetry is such a close and personal thing to him, however, that as he criticizes it he is really criticising himself. By trying to convey how pretentious and worthless his poetry really is, he is really trying to explain to Rita that that is how he feels about himself. Earlier in the play he commented that there was less to him than met the eye, and this speech shows how low he feels he has really sunk. He is trying to show Rita how what she has gained he feels is without meaning, that what she has aspired to is worthless in his eyes, and this display of emotion indicates how his emotions have developed so that he is now in touch with them.
The way Frank responds to Rita’s analysis shows that he really is no longer objective, but subjective, taking what she says not as an objective critical analysis but as an indication of who she has become. Whereas before he wanted mere objectivity and nothing dealing with the personal, now that Rita has that critical skill Frank’s response shows that he regrets what he has done as there are now none of her views stated when she gives an opinion. He liked Rita’s novelty very much, yet her analysis shows it has been taken away, and she talks like any other student. Frank now wants her to be subjective again, another example of how their characters have reversed. That as they have developed, Rita has become the objective one, and Frank the subjective, desperate for some kind of Rita’s ‘sentimentality’ in her work.
Frank then comments that he can no longer bear Rita’s presence, and she responds in a way that shows the audience she now really is his equal. Whereas before, his word was the authority, Rita stands up to Frank and provides an argument against his. In fact she is now the dominant character, and she makes reference to this, comparing their previous relationship to one of a farther and daughter, him teaching her as she gazes back in, ‘wide eyed wonder.’ Rita is trying to show that she has lost her naivety, and he is no longer the dominant male, returning to the theme of gender stereotyping. They are now on equal terms. It is here we see where the conflict has really developed in their relationship, as Rita shows she has reached what she aspired to and Frank reduces its worth, ‘so very very little.’ Frank feels that in becoming educated, Rita has lost all individuality and originality, whereas Rita feels satisfied with what she has achieved, and does not understand why he cannot accept this.
The theme of Education runs throughout the play. This aspect of life is traditionally thought to lift people out of one lifestyle and give them a range of options. Rita is developed through the theme of education to reflect how it can change your lifestyle. She comments that she now knows the ‘right’ kind of wine to buy and the clothes to wear in terms of reflecting a middle class status. She has become a typical middle class women, and Frank hates himself for his part in it. At the beginning of the play Frank enjoyed lording over Rita to an extent and using his superiority to gain control of the situation.
It might appear that he is simply annoyed that he has lost that hold over her, and can not reassert himself with her, so is trying to drag her down and not enable her to become superior to him. It is not that simple however. Throughout the play we have seen Frank and Rita’s characters developing, and although it seems Frank has been trying to keep her from escaping, and he alone wants to shape her, as the play progresses, it becomes evident that he admires her uniqueness. As Frank watches her turn into just another student it enables him to see how her unique qualities are simply wasted, and what she ends up with, has nothing of her in it.
Frank, who at the start of the play was already educated, shows how education can have a degenerative effect when that is really all you have, and he reflects this in his degenerative behaviour. Although he enjoyed the way he could use his knowledge and wit to distance himself from reality, the arrival of Rita shakes up all of his preconceptions of students and life in general . Although she might think that he really did want her to remain ignorant for his own satisfaction, Frank has simply realised how education can make you pretentious and characterless, and that although Rita has want she wanted, he feels the person she has become in order to achieve it is of little value. The theme of education is developed from the first act, and whereas it first appears to be a good thing for both Rita and Frank, the way the characters develop to reflect what an effect it can have on people show that this is not a straightforward theme.
There are clearly a number of themes involved within this play, and to best reflect them the staging of the play must be carefully considered. The two acts that I have analysed display the most contrast through the way in which as the characters have developed their views and how their roles have crossed over. As well as obvious changes in the characters costumes, I would use more subtle differences including changes in lighting and the way the characters react and speak, to reflect the changes they have undergone.
Firstly, costume must be considered as the audience will take initial impressions from the way each character dresses, and the way they appear at the beginning of the play and at the end must reflected in their change of dress. Frank, at the start of the play, although he does indulge in alcohol is much more ‘together’ then a t the end of the play. Therefore his dress should be fairly smart, indicating how he is both middle class and a lecturer. It should include a shirt and tie, with the shirt tucked in and tie tightly tied with his top button fastened. As the play progresses however Frank’s change in character could be shown through subtle changes in his dress.
As his and Rita’s relationship slowly begins to degenerate, his appearance should become untidier, beginning with him untucking his shirt, then undoing his top button and loosening his shirt collar. By Act two, scene five his tie should have disappeared altogether. Although this is not much of a change, a man’s tie, at work, is often considered by others to be smart, and about taking a pride in his appearance. He degenerate appearance by the end of the play should reflect what has happen to Frank himself, in that he no longer cares about work and through alcohol abuse, he himself has degenerated.
Rita’s dress however should become gradually more flamboyant. In Act One scene two, Rita is still uneducated and working class, with the restraints of her husband and family upon her. Her clothing should be conventional and very unexceptional, to reflect her position in life. However, as she learns, gradually her clothing should become different, more creative, as she becomes educated and more creative herself. In Act Two Scene five, when Rita feels that she has fulfilled her potential, and that she knows how to act and, ‘what clothes to wear’ her dress sense should be a complete change, as she now sees herself as an ‘educated woman.’ Both characters clothes need to reflect how the characters feel about themselves to reinforce how they develop. In my second scene, Rita should remain standing for the entirety of the scene, with Frank slumped in his chair. Rita should also wear heels. This clear difference in height between the two should clearly convey to the audience how Rita is now ‘higher’ than Frank in terms of life also. A subtle change would reinforce for the audience the changeover in their roles.
The set itself, as Frank’s office, is another useful reflective tool in showing how Frank degenerates. In Act one, Scene two the office, although not pristine, with books and plants spread around, should have some kind of order to it. As Frank turns to alcohol the disintegration of him must be mirrored in the degeneration of his office. By Scene five in the second act there should be much more disorder, with what were once piles of books, books scattered across the floor, and higher piles of paper, which Frank has obviously not dealt with. Posters, which Frank should have on his wall at the beginning of the play, should begin to curl halfway though the play, and by scene five should have fallen completely and be lying on the floor.
Also, whereas in the earlier scene the whisky bottle should be hidden behind books, indicating discretion on Frank’s part, as mentioned in the play, the bottle should now simply be on the desk showing how he feels there is no point hiding the fact any more. This reflects his feelings about Rita’s transformation; it shows the despair he feels in that now she has conformed, Frank sees only despair. There should also be several empty bottles strewn around to emphasise Frank’s dependency on the alcohol. All this reflects Frank’s degeneration. The way the room has gradually fallen apart is mirrored by what has happened to him.
Lighting could be a very effective tool in these two scenes to emphasise the contrast between the mood of the play towards the beginning, and the scene, which reaches the climax of Frank and Rita’s dispute. In the first scene, to reflect the mood of hope and what looks like an interesting opportunity for both characters, the lighting should be bright throughout, to reflect this feeling. The lighting can also be used effectively however, to focus the audience’s attention on a particular character, and emphasise the importance of what they are saying. At the beginning of Act One, scene Two, there should simply be a bright yellow light enveloping the whole stage. However, as Frank begins to ask Rita questions about her life, and she begins to respond openly to him, the lights should fade out, except for a bright spotlight focused upon Rita’s face.
This should be done from Rita’s line ‘Like what you’ve got to be into…’ and this will emphasise her speech to the audience, as their attention will be all focused upon her and they should listen closely to the deeper meaning o her words. As Frank makes his sarcastic comment about the dress, and the tension lifts the bright lights should fade back in, and remain for the rest f he scene. However, in my chosen scene for act two the lighting must be different to reflect the gloomy atmosphere and environment Frank is now subjecting himself too. The stage should be lit only by a bulb from a desk lamp, all light which would have previously come in through the ‘window’ is now shut out, to make clear how Frank, in his depression, is trying to keep the world out. In this scene spotlights on characters should be used as tension increases between the two characters, as this is a pivotal scene, and emphasising each characters line(s) will heighten the tension for the audience.
Lighting could also be used effectively to show characters responses to each other. For example in the first scene, during the use of spotlights, when Frank and Rita are having a serious discussion, Frank’s confusion over why Rita could not have had an education earlier in life could by emphasised by fading her spotlight out to highlight the confusion on his ace then fading it in again. During Act Two, Scene 5 this technique could be used again. When Rita is commending Frank’s poetry, ‘Why did you stop writing?’ her spotlight could fade out to show the despair on Frank’s face. This technique, if used effectively would be good at highlighting the characters responses to each other in the two different scenes.
Most importantly, how the characters speak react and move on stage will convey their character to the audience, and the changes in their behaviour later in the play will show their new attitude towards each other. In my chosen first scene, the two most have totally different airs. Rita, although she appears confident when speaking to Frank at the beginning of the scene, conveys her agitation through the way in which she refuses to sit down, and instead wanders around Frank’s room. To emphasise her uncertainty she should make some unconscious hand motion, which would convey the audience the nervous tension she is feeling.
As Frank watches her he should appear totally at ease in his chair, reclining slightly to emphasise how relaxed he is. The way that Rita talks should also be different from the way that Frank delivers his lines. Frank should reply almost instantly to Rita’s comments, conveying to the audience that he is confident, and feels that he has no trouble dealing with someone of Rita’s calibre, whereas Rita must deliver her lines with a vaguer more uncertain utterance, more as if she is thinking out loud then having a conversation. This will emphasise the point that Frank is a confident organised teacher dealing with life, whereas Rita is uncertain and trying to clarify what she wants to do.
By Act Two, Scene Five, the two characters should move and talk completely differently, conveying their different positions. Rita, who now feels happy and confident about herself, should show this by how she walks into the room. Instead of wandering uncertainly, she should stride purposefully up to Frank’s desk, indicating she now knows exactly what she is doing and what to say to Frank. For example, Rita must speak with conviction during her defence of Frank’s poetry, ‘It’s not! (pretentious)’ When walking around the room Rita should walk as she should when entering the room, with her head held high and striding confidently. Frank, however, should be slumped in a defeatist position, reflecting how life has defeated him. Rita’s tone, when addressing Frank must be confident, and she should make much more eye contact with him then before. Frank’s tone when he speaks should be much vaguer and less direct to convey his uncertainty to the audience.
The passage of time could be marked in a number of ways. Changes in the characters and the set should show time passing clearly, as done in the film of ‘Educating Rita.’ Firstly, an obvious way could be having a calendar on the back wall with the months changing as the play progresses. However, more subtle changes would reflect time passing just as well, and the subtler they are, the climax of them by the end of the play should surprise the audience by how gradual they have been, and indicate that it has taken a while for them to occur. Gradual changes in the set would probably reflect the time passing most effectively.
The way it degenerates slowly should reflect how Frank’s degeneration happens over time. The office should slowly begin to become messier, with more papers scattered around, etc, but it should be gradual so that the audience are surprised when by Act One, Scene Five they realise just how dilapidated the set is. Also, when Frank is listening to his radio in some of the scenes, the broadcast could be about weather for example, and how it is changing as the seasons do. This could also indicate how time is passing as the seasons move on.
Gradual changes in the characters way of dressing also should indicate how they are slowly developing and that it is taking time, and the clothes the characters wear could start off being light, summer wear, then gradually become more suitable for winter, then gradually become more summery again, also reflecting a change in seasons
In conclusion, ‘Educating Rita’ is a play that explores complex issues through a variety of themes using characters to develop them. The interesting characterisation means that this is not an abstract piece, and through the characters interaction the audience are captivated by their development. This makes the themes shown through them, ‘come alive.’ By the end of the play we have an understanding of both characters point of view, and our sympathies lie with both characters. We can see why Frank was desperate for Rita to remain unique, but it is clear why she feels education is what she needed to uplift her. The way that neither character is depicted as the right or wrong one show that the issues involved with both are not straightforward, and that their is not a simple answer to the questions raised by the themes which include education and class. The staging of the play if well done should add to the richness of the audience’s experience, and help to show what effect the experiences have had upon each character and how they are changed by them.