Willy Russell: Behind the Scenes

We thought that this week would be the perfect time to remind everyone of 2015’s Willy Russell: Behind the Scenes at Kirkby Gallery. The exhibition looked back over his incredible life and work; he spent most of his childhood in Knowsley Village, then moved to Kirkby in his late teens and had a hair salon in Admin Road. He spent much of his youth writing and performing songs, and he kept a guitar in the salon so he could continue on slow days.

His extensive career has seen him span the whole creative spectrum: performer, composer, playwright and writer of international acclaim. He is a talented artist, and the exhibition featured two of his paintings – we later held his first solo show at Kirkby Gallery in 2017, Willy Russell: Another Aspect.

This month marks 40 years since Educating Rita was first performed on stage. It’s been translated into scores of languages and is still performed the world over. Having played Rita in the stage premiere of the original play, Julie Walters went on to star in the film adaptation for which Willy also wrote the screenplay. It was originally a two-hander, featuring only Rita and Frank, set entirely in Frank’s office; Willy had to “flesh out” and create characters, scenes and locations that were alluded to in the original play but unseen by the audience. Willy’s screenplay was nominated for an Oscar. You can watch the film on BBC iPlayer for the next couple of weeks!

We were fortunate to be able to work with the wonderful team at Liverpool John Moores University Special Collections and Archives and loan a large selection of items from their Willy Russell Archive, including posters, programmes, photographs and original scripts. Willy kindly loaned us a range of objects from his personal collection including pictures, awards, and even his typewriter!

Museum of Liverpool loaned us Willy’s fabulous portrait by Peter Edwards. Educating Rita had recently been staged at Liverpool Playhouse and we were able to loan props including “Frank’s” desk and costumes worn by actors Leanne Best and Con O’Neill.