Theatre Review: Rita, Sue and Bob Too

Andrea Dunbar’s seminal portrait of 1980s working class life has been revived this month at York Theatre Royal. went to see how it holds up in the 21st century

Rita, Sue and Bob Too.
Photo Credit : The Other Richard

Andrea Dunbar’s semiautobiographical play, ‘Rita Sue and Bob Too’, set in Bradford and focused on two teenage girls and their sexual relations with an older man, is a stark portrayal of working-class life in 1980s Thatcher’s Britain.

A dark-comedy, the actors in this production lent it a new lease of life, whilst staying true to the original text. Gemma Dobson as Sue was particularly convincing and animated, whilst her parents, played by David Walker and Sally Bankes, were dramatized and funny without being caricatures.

Gemma Dobson as Sue was particularly convincing and animated

The set design, by Tim Shortall, felt intimate. The landscape of the moors enclosed by a house, encapsulated both the geographic and domestic setting of the North, without it being brutally characterised. The set design could have easily been a deindustrialised site, as the protagonist Bob struggles to find work, but the idyllic moors in the background ensures the characters are three-dimensional, more than their circumstances.

Considering it was a six person play, transitions were smooth and well-choreographed and the use of 1980s music was fun.

Considering it was a six person play, transitions were smooth and well-choreographed and the use of 1980s music was fun. Despite this, the sex scenes between Bob, Rita, and Sue felt awkwardly executed. As James Atherton, playing Bob, mimics sexual intercourse and thrusts his bare buttocks on stage, several audience members walked out. This was a shame, considering the rest of the production was sensitively done.

Although Bradford residents did not like Dunbar’s portrayal at the time, it is not a patronising portrayal of working class protagonists. Characters are placed in their context. Whilst Bob can be demonised for his sexual relations with underage girls, he is presented as a man seeking to reclaim his masculinity in the midst of high male unemployment, whereas Rita and Sue are girls merely navigating their Britain where ‘there’s nowt to do.’

Indeed, the play resonates today. Whereas attitudes towards sexual relations between adult men and young girls have hopefully changed since Dunbar wrote her play, aged nineteen, in 1982, the protagonist Bob’s comment that the next prime minister will have to clean up Britain post-Thatcher, is arguably a sentiment that is never truly delivered. Many of Britain’s industrial cities and towns still suffer from the deindustrialisation of Thatcher’s reign and the neoliberal consensus that followed. Rather, in our Brexit Britain, Rita, Sue and Bob Too remains a play unmistakably encapsulating the circumstances of the 1980s, but perhaps also 2017 too.


In our Brexit Britain, Rita, Sue and Bob Too remains a play unmistakably encapsulating the circumstances of the 1980s, but perhaps also 2017 too.

7/10

 

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