Willy Russel’s 1985 play Educating Rita is a story of a women’s struggle escape her repetitive boring working class life and move into a wider, educated world. Russel uses characters, settings and many techniques to effectively explore this potentially difficult topic in an interesting and entertaining way. ‘Into the world’ is a potentially difficult topic in that it involves person, life-changing events that may become hard for the audience to relate to or understand. Russel avoids these problems by challenging stereotypes and melodrama by using characters in an interesting way.
The play is a two-hander which means that only two characters are speaking in the play. By having only these two characters, it keeps the audience engaged and they become more familiar with the characters and can relate to them easier, engaging the audience. Other characters are mentioned, but are never seen in the actual play. The outside world is only seen through Franks and Rita’s eyes, which interests the audience into learning the characters struggles and experiences. Russel uses very good stage settings to make the play more interesting.
The whole play being set in one room, Frank’s office, is not very common in theatres or plays. Having this shocks the audience and instantly becomes more interesting because of its difference. On a symbolic level, the furniture is very interesting. The squeaky door represents a Frank’s barrier, and isolation from the outside world. The window, although transparent, represents a weaker barrier he has with his students. However, Rita finds her way in; showing her determination from Frank’s lost spirit.
This struggle of becoming a more educated person becomes interesting for the audience as they can compare it their own struggles Since the play has only two characters involved, the audience becomes very close to these characters, which makes it more interesting and entertaining. Rita is a working class person who has a strong desire to learn “everything”. Her character is very entertaining because of how real and believable her character is. Her passion and very ‘out there’ personality drives her into pushing frank to teach her.
This is seen when she oils the door, making it easier for her to enter into Franks office, or in a symbolic sense, remove and barriers. Humour is seen very much throughout the play. Rita, being very outspoken, says what is on her mind and speaks the truth about what she thinks. Coming from a lower class then Frank, her understanding of certain things adds humour to the play, making it entertaining for the audience. This type of humour is displayed in the opening scene “Is it supposed to be erotic… This was the pornography of its day, wasn’t it? when Rita is referring to a religious nude painting. Although being very outspoken, Frank realises her truthfulness and laughs. It is entertaining for the audience for someone from the working class to say their opinions on a religious artwork without taking into any consideration of what it might represent or what value it might be worth. Humour is also seen through Frank to make this play more entertaining. Frank, being a grumpy old teacher, is sick of his boring life. He constantly hides his whisky behind books , “Dickens” which can symbolise his shame.
Frank uses a lot of sarcasm which makes this play more entertaining for the audience: “Yes, that’s it, just pop off and put your head in the oven”. Another aspect of this play which makes it interesting is that fact that the characters challenge stereotypes. Russel has portrayed Frank as a smart, sophisticated teacher who would not do much wrong. However, he hides alcohol behind high-level education books. By challenging a stereotype like this, it keeps the audience on their toes in wondering what he will do next.
Characters of his knowledge are stereotypically portrayed as happily married, however he is not. This is seen by him constantly going to the pub and drinking throughout the play. The plot of Educating Rita is a potentially difficult topic to make interesting and entertaining to the reader. The overall plot is Rita learning as much as she can from a grumpy old teacher who isn’t happy with his life, but thinks that Rita is a fresh breath into his office. This story is very interesting because it makes a potentially difficult topic into a comedy, which makes it entertaining.
Rita’s accent fits very well with the plot of a lower class person trying to achieve a better education, but is very unusual to see in a theatre play. However, because of the accent, the audience becomes interested in the difference. Another aspect that Russel focuses on is avoiding melodrama. In many plays and shows seen today, the drama in the story is blown up and over exaggerated. However, in educating Rita it is completely opposite. This is seen when Rita and Denny fight. Frank says “Let’s leave it for tonight.
Let’s go to the pub and drink pots of Guinness and talk. ” Rita then replies with “I’ve got to do this Frank. I’ve got to. ”Her strong passion motivates and interests the audience because they may have faced similar struggles. Although Into the World is a very difficult topic to achieve, Russel has managed to make it both interesting and entertaining. Two-hander plays are difficult to capture personal changes however through plot, characters, symbolism and the idea of challenging stereotypes, Russel is able to turn it into an engaging story.