Rita, Sue and Bob Too

Andrea Dunbar
Out of Joint, Octagon Theatre and Royal Court Theatre
Citizens Theatre, Glasgow

Taj Atwal as Rita and Gemma Dobson as Sue Credit: Richard Davenport
Taj Atwal as Rita and Gemma Dobson as Sue Credit: Richard Davenport
Taj Atwal as Rita, Gemma Dobson as Sue and James Atherton as Bob Credit: Richard Davenport

Before it was a film, Rita, Sue and Bob Too was the second play of Andrea Dunbar who grew up on the Buttershaw Estate and was dead by 29.

It was a thoroughly good thing that the Royal Court reversed the decision to cancel this revival in the wake of current events.

The play is far more sympathetic to the female characters than the film and far less of a Carry On-style comedy.

The action takes place hemmed in on two sides by brick council flats and behind by a huge projection of Bradford that changes between day and night. Four chairs are the main movable pieces of set.

Against this simple backdrop, Rita (Taj Atwal) and Sue (Gemma Dobson) find their babysitting job for Bob (James Atherton) and Michelle (Samantha Robinson) leads to adult fun.

The play and the film follow a very similar course to begin with, but the play sticks to just six characters. The play though feels like the girls are more in control and Michelle, Bob's wife, is much more sympathetic character.

There is less focus on Bob having to choose as in the film and the play feels a lot more about the friendship between the two girls.

There is plenty of humour, but there is also grit, in particular by focusing on the women working in the factory.

Emma Laxton's music—slowed down classic hits like "Tainted Love" and "Ashes to Ashes"—are a good fit for the show with its disturbing undercurrents, Bob telling his wife repeatedly he wouldn't sleep with the girls as they are just kids.

Crucially, Dunbar explicitly states the girls' ages as 15, where in the film they are 16. Both daring and dark.

Dunbar was said to be furious with the change made by the film's director Alan Clarke to give the film a more humorous happy ending with all three characters getting into bed together.

By contrast, the play ends in a scene without Rita or Bob, but instead a scene in the pub that begins with Sue and Michelle having an amiable chat and then, after Sue leaves, Sue's Mum (Sally Bankes) arrives and it is their jokey exchange that ends the play.

Great performances especially from Dobson making her stage debut and Bankes and David Walker as Sue's battling parents.

You can understand why Dunbar was annoyed as ending the play from a woman's perspective rather than a man's makes all the difference in the world. A grim but strangely uplifting experience.

Reviewer: Seth Ewin