The play brings together a hairdresser called Susan – who calls herself Rita at the start of the play - from Liverpool and a disillusioned university lecturer, Dr Frank Bryant.
The characters of Frank and Rita are established and there is a gap between their understandings of culture and life. Frank’s bookshelves are full of English Literature, he is clearly a heavy whisky drinker and he does not get on well with his partner. He is about to tutor an Open University student and is not looking forward to it. (The Open University can be attended by students working full-time.)
Rita is clearly nervous when she arrives and reveals how she did not expect to be accepted.
We learn that Rita‘s husband does not like her watching or reading anything that sets her apart from him and their friends. We also learn that she is lying to her husband about still taking the pill, something that seems likely to bring trouble in later scenes. She says she does not want to be tied down yet.
Frank is impressed by the open and honest approach that Rita takes. He believes that his cynicism is not right for her and perhaps her enthusiasm drives him nearer to despair. Whatever the reason, he says he will arrange a better tutor for her but Rita insists that she will stay with him.