A LUCKY encounter and mutual love for Educating Rita has been the spark for the major new production of Willy Russell’s acclaimed play, which opens in Southampton next week.
Jessica Johnson will play Susan “Rita” White, Liverpudlian’s hairstylist aiming for a better life at Open University, opposite Stephen Tompkinson as her frustrated professor Frank Bryant.
And it all happened after a chance meeting between the two protagonists while they were both performing at the Live Theater in Newcastle.
Jessica said: “We crossed paths and chatted, and I just told Stephen I thought he would make an amazing Frank. I had just done a short series of Education to Rita in Durham at the Gala Theater, and I was telling Stephen how I ‘I love to run longer in this amazing role.’
Stephen, 53, adds: “It turns out that this is a play that we have both loved for many, many years. So I left and reread the play, which I had been reading since I was 15 years old. Actually a school friend and I used to rehearse it together in my dad’s garage, but of course I was way too young for the role at the time. But as I reread the play, I realized that I was now the right age to play Frank, which was kinda scary to start with! ”
This led Stephen, who had starred in the acclaimed Yasmina Reza Art production on a nationwide tour, to broach the idea of doing something with Educating Rita in the future with Art Producer David Pugh. .
David loved the idea – and got Jessica and Stephen together for a performance of the play in a hotel room in Bath in front of playwright Willy Russell’s daughter, Rachel.
“We had a pretty nervous performance of the play in a hotel room, to see if there were any legs in it and luckily we did it with flying colors.”
Of the new tour starting in Southampton, Stephen and Jessica said they are really looking forward to being on the coast in July and are very impressed that Southampton offers to be the City of Culture 2025. With two greats theaters in the city, they wish Southampton good luck with the offer.
Rita’s education is at MAST Mayflower Studios from Tuesday July 20 through Sunday July 24. Visit mayflowerstudios.org.uk or call 023 8071 1833.