A CHANCE meeting and a mutual love of Willy Russell’s Educating Rita was the spark for a new production of the ever-popular play.

Jessica Johnson is in Bradford playing Rita White, the Liverpudlian hairdresser aiming for a better life at the Open University, opposite Stephen Tompkinson as frustrated professor Frank Bryant.

The roles were made famous by Julie Walters and Michael Caine in the 1983 film version of the story.

The new production will be at the Alhambra Theatre from May 6-11, and only came about because the two leads bumped into each other while performing in separate shows in Newcastle.

Jessica said: “We crossed paths and got chatting, and I just said to Stephen I thought he would make an amazing Frank.

“I had just done a short run of Educating Rita in Durham at the Gala Theatre, and was telling Stephen how I’d love to get a longer run at this incredible role.”

Stephen added: “It transpired it’s a play we’ve both loved for many, many years. So I went away and re-read the play, which I had been reading since I was 15.

“But re-reading the play I realised I’m now the right age to play Frank which was a little bit scary!”

This led Stephen, 53, to broach the idea of doing something with Educating Rita in future with Art’s producers, David Pugh and Dafydd Rogers.

David loved the idea - and brought together Jessica and Stephen for a performance of the play in a hotel room in Bath in front of Willy Russell’s daughter Rachel - who approved.

Stephen, star of TV dramas including Ballykissangel, Wild at Heart and DCI Banks, added: “Frank is terribly disappointed in life, he’s not been a great success at being a poet.”

Visit bradford-theatres.co.uk or call 01274 432000 to book tickets.