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Educating Rita - The play is essentially about the impact of education on thelives of two people and it therefore does not need to distract theaudience with Rita and Frank's other relationships and concerns.Having them as the only characters on stage also

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Introduction

The play is essentially about the impact of education on the lives of two people and it therefore does not need to distract the audience with Rita and Frank's other relationships and concerns. Having them as the only characters on stage also highlights the depth and intensity of Rita and Frank's relationship. It could be argued that the single room set does not give the audience enough of a sense of the social context of the two characters, but this is more than made up for by the incidents that they narrate about their lives outside Frank's study. The single set represents Frank's personality and position in the intellectual elite. From its description in the opening stage directions, it is a typical don's room; lined with books, strewn with papers and decorated with a 'good print of a nude religious scene'. But Frank's first actions on stage undermine the high intellectual impression created by the room. He is searching his bookshelves not for a book, for but a bottle, which he duly finds behind the highly respectable Dickens. When Rita eventually enters after her struggles with the door (symbolic perhaps of the obstacles placed on her road to enlightenment) she comments perceptively on the painting that, for all its value as art, is still just an excuse to look at a naked woman's body. In Scene 2 Rita admires the room's appearance in spite of the fact that it is a mess. Rita: How d'y' make a room like this? Frank: I didn't make it. I just moved in. The rest sort of happened Rita: (Looking round) Yeh. That's cos you've got taste. I'm gonna have a room like this one day. There's nothing phoney about it. Everything is in its right place. Clearly the room represents Rita's aspirations, her desire to become a member of the educated middle class elite. As with education itself, Frank has got it but doesn't value it, whereas Rita is prepared to work hard to achieve it. ...read more.

Middle

As Rita's education progresses her attitude to the room also changes. Quite early on she says: It feeds me inside. I can get through the rest of the week if I know I've got comin' here to look forward to. After her first experience of live Shakespeare she rushes to the room on her lunch break, bursting with the need to share her new and exciting ideas and perceptions. After she has failed to show up to Frank's dinner party, she says: I'm all right here with you, here in this room, but when I saw those people you were with I couldn't come in. The room at this stage is in sharp contrast to the other environments Rita mentions: the loud and distracting, but deeply conservative hairdressing salon; her conflict-laden home and the spiritless pubs of her 'normal' life. However, as Rita grows in confidence and strength, the room becomes less important. She moves into a flat, works in a bistro, chats to students on warm summer lawns and begins to appreciate Blake at an intensely exciting summer school. Before long Rita begins to see faults in the room. Rita: ... A room is like a plant. Frank: A room is like a plant? Rita: Yeh, it needs air. In Act 2, Scene 4, Rita arrives late because she is talking about Shakespeare to someone else, and Frank is hurt because Rita has not told him about leaving the hairdressers. Frank (after a pause): It struck me there was a time when you told me everything. Scene 6 reduces Frank reduced to trying to contact Rita on the telephone. At the end of the play Frank is packing his books in preparation for his journey to Australia. He has been shaken out of his sleepy existence by his encounters with Rita, and is facing up to some of the unexamined problems in his own life. ...read more.

Conclusion

Willy Russell could have located Rita's story in other places, but to do so would have weakened the play's focus on the transformation of Rita. She comes to the room because of Frank, but the room itself is part of Frank's character and its appearance, however messy, is part of what attracts Rita to the course. As in Greek tragedy, much of the action in Rita's life occurs offstage. This has two advantages for Russell. The first is that the other locations in the play are created by Rita's words, and so there are no slow and cumbersome set changes to slow down the comic pace of the play. (The disadvantage of this is of course that the actress playing Rita has very little time for costume changes). The second advantage is that it gives Russell much greater control over the tone of the events narrated by Rita. Her account of Denny burning her books is bad enough, but to bring his anger and frustration onto the stage would probably have been too brutal a scene for such a light-hearted play. Equally, the scene in the pub could well have descended in class prejudice if the audience had simply been invited to watch a group of working-class people singing songs of dubious taste. Rita interprets everything we learn about the world outside the play for the audience. Her comments of the hairdressers show that she understands the needs of her customers to be 'changed' but that she finds the changes they want to be superficial and ultimately 'boring' and 'irrelevant'. Without Rita's tone these comments would probably be unduly harsh. There are some theatrical disadvantages to using a two-handed format, such as lack of time for costume changes, no rest periods for the actors and audience boredom with a single set, but these are minor compared with the advantages gained in intensity and focus. Given the play's subject matter, the fact that the action consists entirely of two people in a room talking is not a problem. The talk is what is important and Willy Russell marks Rita's progress even in this. ...read more.

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