The plays follows the relationship between an old Liverpudlian working class hairdresser and Frank, a middle-aged university lecturer, during the course of a year. In the play Frank has no surname, but when the film was made he became Dr. Frank Bryant.
Susan (who initially calls herself Rita), dissatisfied with the routine of her work and social life, seeks inner growth by signing up for and attending an Open University course in English Literature. The play opens as 'Rita' meets her tutor, Frank, for the first time. Frank is a middle-aged, alcoholic career academic who has taken on the tutorship to pay for his drink. The two have an immediate and profound effect on one another; Frank is impressed by Susan's verve and earnestness and is forced to re-examine his attitudes and position in life; Susan finds Frank's tutelage opens doors to a bohemian lifestyle and a new self-confidence. However, Frank's bitterness and cynicism return as he notices Susan beginning to adopt the pretensions of the university culture he despises. Susan becomes disillusioned by a friend's attempted suicide and realises that her new social niche is rife with the same dishonesty and superficiality she had previously sought to escape. The play ends as Frank, sent to Australia on a sabbatical, welcomes the possibilities of the change.