A HOMEGROWN talent will take the lead role in a forthcoming production of the hit stage play Educating Rita.

Sunderland-born actor Jessica Johnson will take on the lead in the Gala Theatre production as Rita, alongside Silent Witness and Call The Midwife actor Patrick Driver, taking the helm as Frank.

Originally written by Willy Russell for a 1980 stage production, the story became a national hit in 1983 when the big screen version starring Michael Caine and Julie Walters was nominated for three Oscars.

The play tells the story of Susan "Rita" White, a working class hairdresser, fed up of her life and with aspirations for better things, who meets middle-aged Open University professor and alcoholic, Frank Bryant.

With Rita’s brash honesty and Frank’s deep intellect, each inspires the other as they begin to form an unlikely bond.

Educating Rita is part of a new drive to produce more work at Gala. It will be directed by Newcastle-based Rebecca Frecknall.

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

“Michael Caine and Julie Waters 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.”

Educating Rita will be staged at the Gala Theatre from Tuesday, April 4 to Saturday, April 8 at 7.30pm each night, with 2.30pm matinees on Thursday and Saturday.

Tickets are priced at £15 or £13 for concessions, with £12 tickets available for opening night, matinees and Gala members

A special two-for-one ticket promotion will also be in place on opening night for Gala Members.