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Devonshire Park Theatre, Eastbourne, 17 – 22 February

40 years after it was first performed on stage, Willy Russell’s iconic comedy Educating Rita is headed to the Devonshire Park Theatre, Eastbourne from 17 – 22 February.

This stage version toured last year and received rave reviews, returning to their roles Stephen Tompkinson as Frank Bryant and Jessica Johnson as Rita are reunited on stage.

When married hairdresser Rita enrols on a university course as a mature student to expand her horizons, little does she realise where the journey will take her. Her tutor Frank is a frustrated poet, brilliant academic and dedicated drunk who’s less than enthusiastic about taking Rita on, but when these two people come together they soon realise how much they have to teach each other.

This hilarious and heart-warming comedy won the Olivier Award when it was produced in London’s West End by the RSC and was adapted into the multi award-winning film.

Written by one of the UK’s greatest ever playwrights Willy Russell (Blood Brothers, Shirley Valentine) the BAFTA and Golden Globe winning 1983 film starring Julie Waters and Michael Caine helped cement this tale, of the Liverpudlian hairdresser who signs herself up to an Open University course to better herself, into the hearts and minds of millions.

Stephen Tompkinson who is well known for his time in long-running TV dramas including Ballykissangel, Wild at Heart and DCI Banks, has relished getting inside the head of Frank. Stephen said: “Frank is terribly disappointed in life, he’s not been a great success at being a poet, he’s disappointed in the way the curriculum dictates how he teaches. There’s nothing of him in there, there’s no passion. So to meet this woman with so much passion, he almost wants to run away. She offers him a little bit of a lifeline, and he’s doing the same for her. There is definitely an attraction for him.”

He adds; “It’s a brilliantly written play, and a universal story of two lost souls, mismatched people in terms of character and background who meet at the right time to help each other in life. Last year was such a great success and having the chance to go on and do it when it’s officially the 40th anniversary tour is a lovely bonus. We set out to try and remind people what a brilliant play Willy wrote and it’s still so incredibly relevant today.”

On the part of Rita Jessica Johnson said: “From a very young age when I read Educating Rita, it gave me permission to aspire, to have the option of a different way of life. I felt that connection with her, the class struggle, the social struggle, the want for something better – that’s something I could get behind and I hope I bring that to the part.”

Willy Russell’s Educating Rita is at the Devonshire Park Theatre, Eastbourne from Monday 17 – Saturday 22 February, nightly performances at 7.45pm, Wednesday and Saturday matinee at 2.30pm, tickets priced from £20 – £28.50, to book call the box office on 01323 412000 or online eastbournetheatres.co.uk which now gives the option to print-tickets-at-home and choose your seat based on the views which it offers.