Review: Rita, Sue and Bob Too

Samantha Robinson and James Atherton in Rita, Sue and Bob Too. Photograph: Richard Davenport
15 Nov 2017 @ 3.37 pm
| Entertainment

Thirty five years ago Andrea Dunbar’s extremely funny story of a menage-a-trois between two 15 year old girls and an older married man was considered shocking.

Rita, Sue and Bob Too by Out Of Joint Theatre

York Theatre Royal

Tue Nov 14-Sat Nov 18


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The sex scenes conducted in semi naked disarray in the back of a car, the swearing and general coarseness of the piece seemed realistic.

The lives of all the characters represented Thatcher’s Britain for the working classes.

But is it a period piece or can the play speak to us today?

Joyous 90 minutes

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Andrea Dunbar started writing a CSE coursework project and sent her first play to Max Stafford Clark at The Royal Court Theatre in London, as part of the Young Writers Programme. He saw its potential and put it on.

He also commissioned a second play: Rita, Sue and Bob Too. My feeling is that the play is a joyous 90 minutes – but I felt the immaturity of the author and the age of the piece.

The play with wit and an unflinching viewpoint allows us to see life through their eyes. As Dunbar said: “You write what’s said, you don’t lie”.

Sue is played by Gemma Dobson and Rita by Taj Atwal: both actors portray an intensity and thirst for living which we know will never be fulfilled.

Their joyous sexual encounters and descriptions are an hilarious commentary to the events.

Thatcher’s Britain

Taj Atwal, Gemma Dobson and James Atherton

The older generation is depicted by Rita’s parents played by Sally Bankes and David Walker.

They argue and attack the values of the young with hilarity and complete misunderstanding but they are stuck in 1982. Rita and Sue are the only characters who feel contemporary.

The married Bob, played by James Atherton, drives them home after babysitting and initiates the sexual encounters. He rages against Thatcher’s Britain; however, his response to what he feels about his situation is finally pragmatic.

He is sexist and entitled to dally with the girls as he claims his wife is boring in bed.

The girls’ feelings are equally without sentiment, just on an unfettered search for experience and sensation. It is a pity that an unwanted pregnancy is the result.

No sentimentality or condemnation

Have young people’s prospects changed since the play was written?

There is no sentimentality or condemnation. The play explores the bonds between women and even Bob’s wife, played with sympathy by Samantha Robinson, understands and accepts the status quo.

The Eighties musical backdrop of Michael Jackson, Blondie and Gary Numan are inevitable. But it is an effective way to facilitate scene changes – and the girls’ lip syncing is massively entertaining.

So is it different now? Are there jobs or prospects for these young women? Do they have any future?

The answer is probably not. Today there are different problems and I wish there were a modern Andrea Dunbar to tell us about them.