Dir. Kate Wasserberg, Citizens Theatre, 13-17 February
A semi-autobiographical story rooted in the sexual relationship two fifteen-year-olds share with an older man may not naturally market itself as a comedy, but Andrea Dunbar’s ‘Rita, Sue and Bob Too’ is exactly that. Opening in Bob’s car as he drives Rita and Sue home from babysitting his kids, what ensues is a comedic yet tragically frank story of two working class girls on the brink of womanhood, reaching for more.
Rita and Sue, played by the vivacious and hilarious Taj Atwal and Gemma Dobson, are, imperatively, just as active in the unfolding relationship as Bob, acted by James Atherton. They see him as a golden vessel of escapism through which they can forget about their troubled homes and reach beyond the constrictions of life in a post-Thatcher Britain, all while receiving the fatherly attention they both always wanted but never had. Atwal and Dobson capture the raw, darker nuances that are unique to Dunbar’s voice, primarily through her at times startlingly frank humour that only a teenager’s narration could contain.
Kate Wasserberg’s production overlooks none of Dunbar’s subtle political critiques. With a view of Bradford at night looming in the back of the stage, and the girls’ estate standing tall, we are continually reminded that their momentary escape with Bob is exactly that: momentary. Post-Thatcher Britain is offering them nothing more. Thus, their understandably tempting rendezvous begins.
To categorise Rita and Sue as victims would be to undermine them. Atwal and Dobson’s complex portrayals show them witty and strong, evident in the first scene where they fool Bob into believing they are both virgins and then humorously mock his gullibility. However, what these girls show in toughness they match with naivety – they hang on to every word Bob says; overrun with excitement they are blind to his control.
Finding ourselves once again subject to ongoing austerity and the continuing sexual exploitation of women, Out of Joint’s revival could not have come at a more perfect time. Although Dunbar was writing in the 1980s, her words persist to be scarily relevant and just as important today as they were almost 40 years ago.