Willy Russell’s hilarious comedy, Educating Rita, about two seemingly opposite people – Rita, a full-on 100mph hairdresser who sees returning to education as a way to a more rewarding life, and Frank, the jaded university lecturer who is about to have his comfortable but tired existence blown apart by his new student – opens the autumn 2013/winter 2014 programme from the Library Theatre Company at The Lowry in Salford.
Taking on the role of Rita is Liverpool-born Gillian Kearney, who is well known to Manchester theatre audiences from roles in William Shakespeare’s King Lear, Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s The Rivals, and Rod Wooden’s Your Home in the West, all at the Royal Exchange. TV lovers will recognise her from Shameless where she played Sue, Jessica Harrison in Casualty and possibly her most famous role (back in the 80s) as Debbie McGrath in Brookside!
Gillian stars alongside Preston born Philip Bretherton, as Frank, in this production which opens on the 26th September. Manchester’s Finest managed to pin Gillian down during her rehearsals for a quick chat about what we can expect.
MF: How does it feel to be playing Rita onstage in ‘Educating Rita’- such an iconic role?
GK: It’s an honour. It has such great writing from Willy Russell who has always been one of my icons. I was very lucky to have worked with him when I was sixteen – I played young Shirley in the film Shirley Valentine (which he wrote) and so I got to know him and his family very well. Just to read his dialogue is such a privilege really.
“When he meets Rita she gives him hope and then he loses hope again along the way and I think that’s something that never changes – people’s dilemmas.”
MF: Now if anyone saw the film version back in 1983 starring Julie Walters and Michael Caine they would be in for a shock when they see the stage version as this is a 2 hander play, whereas in the film we meet lots of other characters?
GK: Yes, you are right-the play is completely Frank and Rita so it’s pretty intense because of that. It’s set in the same room, it’s just time moves on and Rita changes along the way. Other parts you saw in the film are there but just all in the dialogue, she’s a great storyteller Rita so fortunately so she fills out all the details. We hear from her about Denny her husband and we hear about Julia, Franks’ partner. Ultimately it’s about her and Frank’s relationship and because it’s just the two onstage all the time it really focuses on that. You can really see what goes on and what’s happening to them as friends-how they improve each other and also hurt each other along the way.
MF: Rita goes on a real journey throughout the play, can you sympathise with her plight?
GK: Yes, definitely, you really get inside the frustration she feels. The passion is there and the longing to change and improve but she just loses her way. She doesn’t realise the ‘educating Rita’ at the end isn’t just about academia it’s about keeping your immediacy and your honesty.
MF: The play was written back in 1980 – over 33 years ago – why do you think it’s still attracting audiences?
GK: It’s about human beings, and it’s very honest. Human problems never seem to change. We all struggle with the same feelings of inadequacies. Rita’s very hungry to absorb like a sponge but Frank’s very disillusioned with life at the beginning. When he meets Rita she gives him hope and then he loses hope again along the way and I think that’s something that never changes – people’s dilemmas.
Library Theatre Company
The Lowry, Salford
Thu 26 September – Sat 12 October 2013