News: Stephen Tompkinson in Educating Rita to play Minack Theatre, Cornwall this August

Olivier and Tony Award-winning producer David Pugh and Zoe Curnow, Executive Director of the Minack Theatre, are delighted to announce that the acclaimed 40th anniversary production of Willy Russell’s Educating Rita will play the Minack Theatre, Cornwall this August. The production was on a UK Tour when the Government closed theatres, but is now able to open at this beautiful outdoor theatre with social distancing. Performances will begin on Tuesday 18 August and the season will run until Saturday 29 August. The production stars Stephen Tompkinson as Frank and Jessica Johnson as Rita and is directed by Max Roberts.

David Pugh explained his decision to stage the production outdoors for two weeks: “I am a producer, so I should produce. The idea of playing Educating Rita at the Minack Theatre is not only exciting but also a step towards re-opening all of our theatres. I do worry about the rain but when I mentioned this to Willy Russell, he said ‘Don’t worry, I’ll just add a line. Rita can say: There’s a leak in your ceiling, Frank.’”

Zoe Curnow added, “We are delighted to be able to reawaken the Minack from its lockdown sleep and put the soul back into our theatre with live performances. Having sadly had to postpone our previously scheduled 2020 season, we are delighted to be forging new friendships with producers like David and are really excited to welcome Willy Russell and Stephen and Jessica to our beautiful theatre. Our fingers are crossed that the sun shines on us for the remainder of the summer.”

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.

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.

Stephen Tompkinson and Jessica Johnson said of playing the Minack Theatre, “On March 16, we thought that was it, that we were never to perform in our favourite play ever again. Now, we are beyond excited to be doing Educating Rita one more time at the Minack, the stunning open air theatre in Cornwall.”

Educating Rita was originally 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.

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).

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).

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 has 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 is a Theatre by the Lake production..

Educating Rita is playing at the Minack Theatre from
18 – 29 August 2020
.

Photo credit: Seamus Ryan

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