Sunderland Actress Lands Lead Role in Educating Rita

Julie Walters and Sir Michael Caine in a scene from Educating Rita, 1993

Sunderland-born actress Jessica Johnson has landed the role of Rita in a production of Educating Rita, which will be staged at Durham’s Gala Theatre.

Ms Johnson will star opposite Patrick Driver, who will take on the role of Frank. Patrick Driver has previously appeared in Silent Witness and Call the Midwife.

Educating Rita tells the story of spirited hairdresser Susan ‘Rita’ White who, fed up with her life and aspiring to something better, enrols on an Open University course. Through her studies, she meets Frank, an alcoholic middle-aged lecturer.

Through Rita’s brash honesty and Frank’s deep intellect, each character inspires the other and the two end up forming an unlikely bond.

Educating Rita was originally written by Willy Russell as a stage play in 1980. The story became famous when a film based on Mr Russell’s story, starring Michael Caine and Julie Walters, received three Oscar nominations.

Educating Rita, which is part of a drive to produce more new work at the Gala Theatre, will be directed by Newcastle-based Rebecca Frecknell.

Jo Cundell, the Gala’s arts programme manager, said, “We are delighted to be bringing this British theatre classic to Gala audiences.”

“Michael Caine and Julie Walters turned Willy Russell’s heart-warming story into a seminal BAFTA-award-winning film and we hope Jess’s performance as this much-loved character will capture the hearts and minds of Gala audiences.”

Jessica Johnson has previously starred in the north-east-based films Cherry and School for Seduction. School for Seduction is about an Italian temptress, played by Kelly Brook, who arrives in Newcastle to teach a group of Geordies about the art of romance.

Educating Rita will be on at the Gala from Tuesday 4th to Saturday 5th April, starting at 7.30 pm. On Thursday and Saturday there will also be matinees, beginning at 2.30 pm. Tickets cost £15 (£13 for concessions), with some £12 tickets available for the opening night and the matinees and for Gala members.

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