Iconic 80s Play Still Provokes Uneasy Laughter

Rita, Sue And Bob Too, Royal Court Theatre ★★★★☆

Neil Dowden
By Neil Dowden Last edited 14 months ago
Iconic 80s Play Still Provokes Uneasy Laughter Rita, Sue And Bob Too, Royal Court Theatre 4
Photo: The Other Richard

Andrea Dunbar's semi-autobiographical, coming-of-age play Rita, Sue and Bob Too is about two 15-year-old girls from a Bradford council estate who are shagging the father of the kids they babysit. In this time of heightened awareness of sexual transgression, it's impossible not to see the 27-year-old man as a predator who is exploiting the underage teenagers, but this 1982 play is not judgemental and there is a lot of raunchy comedy about awkward couplings in the back seat of his car.

The illicit sex is portrayed as a release from the boredom and frustration of stunted lives in a deprived part of north England in the eighties. The film version's tagline was "Thatcher's Britain with her knickers down", and the socio-political background of unemployment and inequality lies behind the bawdy banter.

Photo: The Other Richard

There are terrifically natural, convincing performances from Taj Atwal and Gemma Dobson (in her stage debut) as Rita and Sue, whose close friendship is threatened by their competing attentions towards the laddish Bob, given vulnerability as well as manipulativeness by James Atherton.

Kate Wasserberg's excellent touring production for Out of Joint was previously pulled from the Royal Court schedule because the show's original co-director, Max Stafford-Clark, was sacked as the company's artistic director for inappropriate sexual behaviour. The decision was reversed to allow Dunbar's distinctively feisty working-class female voice to be heard with its full northern frankness.

Rita, Sue and Bob Too, Royal Court Theatre, Sloane Square, SW1W 8AS, £12-£45, Until 27 January 2018.

Last Updated 15 January 2018