(Jane Coyle’s article appeared in the Irish Times, 2/5)
Belfast in the early 1980s was a perilous place and time. With random violence on the streets and political negotiations in a downward spiral, everyday life, particularly in besieged working class areas, was a minefield, while within the leafy cloisters of academia a sanity of sorts prevailed.
These are the contrasting worlds occupied by Rita and Frank, respectively a hairdresser and an academic, whose paths cross when she makes a courageous break for personal freedom and self-improvement via an Open University course. It is taught by a cynical alcoholic who has taken on extra-curricular work to fund his escalating habit. Over the course of an academic year, the two trade roles and aspirations, with Rita hell bent on pursuing an upward trajectory into the bohemian milieu from which Frank takes refuge in books and drink.