Interview: Willy Russell (Educating Rita)

This year marks the 40th anniversary since award-winning playwright Willy Russell wrote “Educating Rita”, which remains one of his best-loved works.

This year marks the 40th anniversary since award-winning playwright Willy Russell wrote “Educating Rita”, which remains one of his best-loved works.

The show is regularly performed around the world and is coming to Darlington Hippodrome in August as part of a major new production starring Stephen Tompkinson and Jessica Johnson.

Ahead of the tour, Willy Russell reflected on the success of his play, joking: “When will I ever be free of it? It’s coming up to its 40th anniversary would you believe?”

He continued: “When it first opened, I remember saying to Mike [Ockrent] the original director, ‘It’s not actually got much stagecraft to it this, it’s just a series of scenes’.

“So to still be talking about Educating Rita 40 years later reminds me of how gloriously wrong and stupid playwrights can be.”

Willy thinks of Educating Rita with great affection, not least because of the success of the original 1980 production at the Warehouse Theatre, where Julie Walters first played the role of Rita opposite Mark Kingston as Frank.

He explained: “The original production came together so well and I worked with people I really adored, Mike, Julie, Mark.

“Nobody had any big plans for this play, so when something happens so unexpectedly you always have a special regard for it because it came out of nowhere and suddenly made it.”

The success of the play was followed by the 1983 BAFTA-winning movie starring Michael Caine and Walters reprising her role as Rita.

Willy recalls: “That’s when everything kind of happened, everything went ballistic during that period. I was very fortunate to always have good strong women around me during that early success.

“I’m not one to lose touch with reality, but if I ever showed any signs of getting slightly wonderful I’d be cut down and put in my place, rightly so.”

Educating Rita

The new UK production, in association with David Pugh and Dafydd Rogers and directed by Max Roberts premiered at Theatre by the Lake in Keswick from Thursday, April 18th, 2019, before heading on a UK tour.

Willy says: “I first worked with David when he was an assistant on the very first tour of Blood Brothers in 1985 and we’ve tried to work together ever since and never quite managed to do it for one reason or another, so working with a producer I know and admire is great.”

Educating Rita tells the story of married hairdresser Rita who enrols on an Open University course to expand her horizons.

But in her university tutor, Frank, she finds a frustrated but brilliant academic, a little too fond of a drink, who is initially less than enthusiastic to teach Rita. The two soon realise they have much to learn from each other.

Willy is looking forward to see Stephen Tompkinson take on the role of Frank, adding: “I’ve long admired him as an actor.

“Frank is a role which has a humour to it but has a real pain as well.  I can’t think of anyone more equipped to delving into both of those elements than Stephen.”

 Educating Rita runs at Darlington Hippodrome from Monday, August 12th 2019 to Saturday, August 17th, 2019.

For more information or to book tickets, call 01325 405405 or visit the Darlington Hippodrome website.

Source: Darlington Hippodrome