Rita, Sue and Bob, Too, Bolton Octagon
Saturday 23 September 2017
Andrea Dunbar was discovered by Max Stafford-Clark when he was running the Royal Court and was only 19 when she wrote this semi-autobiographical play. The play (and the title) revolves around two fifteen-year-old girls (Taj Atwal as Rita, Gemma Dobson making her professional stage debut as Sue) and their affair with a 27-year-old married man (James Atherton as Bob) for whom they regularly babysit.
Set on a council estate, similar to the Buttershaw estate in Bradford where Andrea lived until her early death (aged just 29), Rita, Sue And Bob Too, offers a candid dose of social realism combined with sparky, humorous dialogue, some industrial grade swearing and naked (male) buttocks.
The buttocks in question belong to Bob, and are on display in the opening scene of the play, which dramatises their first sexual encounter, an awkward, cramped threesome in his car parked on the moors as he is running Rita and Sue home from babysitting. The humour in the scene largely comes from the running commentary and some great reactions from whichever girl is not currently participating.
For Rita and Sue, the affair is a brief, thrilling adult adventure and a temporary escape from a bleak, uncertain future of YTS jobs in 1980s Britain. Of course, when the cat is out of the bag, it is the two girls who are branded as sluts and home wreckers. Bob’s wife (Samantha Robinson) is also blamed, whilst Bob gets off virtually scot-free.
The play depicts situations that many theatregoers may find shocking, particularly when we are all now much more aware of recent grooming cases. But underage sexual encounters were part and parcel of everyday estate life for Andrea Dunbar. Despite her obvious writing talent, she never escaped from the estate. Similarly, despite their spark and attitude, the future looks bleak for Rita and Sue, best friends who end up estranged. Rita’s aspiration of becoming a policewoman appears doomed when she becomes pregnant at 16, while Sue ends up in a soul-destroying dead-end job.
Played straight through without an interval, with accomplished performances by all the cast, this is a short sharp shock of a play with plenty to amuse, entertain and make you think.
Photo credits: Richard Davenport