David Pugh and Theatre by the Lake are delighted to announce that their highly acclaimed production of Willy Russell’s Educating Rita, which toured the UK earlier this year, will have a 40th anniversary production in 2020, once again touring the UK and starring Stephen Tompkinson as Frank and Jessica Johnson as Rita. The production is directed by Max Roberts.
The 40th anniversary production of Educating Rita will open at the Oxford Playhouse on 4 February and the tour will continue through to 23 May, where it finishes at Newcastle Theatre Royal.
Educating Rita tells the story of married hairdresser Rita, who enrols on an Open University course to expand her horizons, and her encounters with university tutor Frank. Frank is a frustrated poet, brilliant academic and dedicated drinker, who is less than enthusiastic about teaching Rita. However, Frank soon finds that his passion for literature is reignited by Rita, whose technical ability for the subject is limited by her lack of education, but whose enthusiasm Frank finds refreshing. The two soon realise how much they have to learn from each other.
The play was commissioned by the Royal Shakespeare Company and played at the Warehouse Theatre, London in 1980, starring Julie Walters and Mark Kingston. Julie Walters reprised her role in the BAFTA, Golden Globe and Academy Award-winning film opposite Michael Caine.
Born in Liverpool in 1947, Willy Russell left school at 15 and became a women’s hairdresser and part-time singer/songwriter before returning to education to retrain as a teacher. Russell’s other writing credits include the Olivier Award-winning musical Blood Brothers, and the hugely successful play Shirley Valentine, which won the Olivier Awards for Best New Comedy and Best New Actress, and a Tony Award for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play. The play was adapted for film and nominated for a host of BAFTA and Academy Awards. Willy Russell continues to be one of the most celebrated writers of his generation with works constantly in production throughout the world as well as in the UK.
Willy Russell said of this tour: “I am delighted that Stephen and Jess are returning next year to play Frank and Rita in the 40th anniversary production of Educating Rita, directed once again by the wonderful Max Roberts – I’m extremely proud to be associated with this marvellous production.”
Stephen Tompkinson’s television credits include ITV’s Torvill & Dean, BBC’s The Split, five series of DCI Banks, four series of Trollied, seven series of Wild at Heart, six series of Drop the Dead Donkey (British Comedy Award Winner for Best TV Comedy Actor) and three series of Ballykissangel, and his films include Phil in Brassed Off. His theatre work includes Spamalot, Rattle of a Simple Man and Arsenic and Old Lace in the West End, Cloaca and A Christmas Carol (Old Vic), Art and Tartuffe (National Tours).
Stephen Tompkinson said: “We had such a wonderful time touring and performing this last year around the UK. Audiences respond so well to Willy Russell’s brilliant two-hander. The response Jess and I receive and their affection for this play and these characters are overwhelming. I’m thrilled to be a part of this production and to be sharing the stage with Jess again in even more cities next year.”
Jessica Johnson’s theatre credits include Call Me Mary Poppins, Goth Weekend, Kings and Queens, Each Piece and Anti-Gravity at the Live Theatre, Newcastle. She previously played Rita in Rebecca Frecknall’s 2017 production of Educating Rita at the Gala Theatre, Durham. Her television credits include Wire In The Blood (ITV), Coronation Street (ITV) and Cuckoo (Channel 4).
Jessica Johnson added: “Working with Willy, Max and Stephen earlier this year and developing the role of Rita in front of incredible audiences, has been the highlight of my career so far. It has been a total honour and now I get to do it again in the 40th anniversary production. I couldn’t be happier.”
Max Roberts is Emeritus Artistic Director of Newcastle’s Live Theatre. Under his direction, the Live Theatre has become one of the country’s most successful theatre companies with an outstanding reputation for developing new work. His Olivier Award-nominated production of Lee Hall’s Cooking With Elvis transferred to the West End’s Whitehall Theatre (now Trafalgar Studios) before touring nationally. He also directed The Pitman Painters, which transferred to the National Theatre and won Best Play at the Evening Standard Theatre Awards before opening on Broadway.
Educating Rita will have set and costume designs by Patrick Connellan, lighting design by Drummond Orr and sound design by David Flynn.
Educating Rita is produced by David Pugh and co-produced by Theatre by the Lake.
To book tickets visit educatingrita.co.uk
Photo credit: Robert Day