Writer : Andrea Dunbar
Director: Kate Wasserberg
Reviewer: Torran McEwan
‘I don’t mess about with kids’ Bob insists to his wife, ‘how could I do a thing like that?’ Someone in the audience titters. This moment is disturbing. It illustrates Bob’s awareness that his grooming of two underage girls is wrong, but that he is unwilling to stop. Somehow in this production of Rita, Sue, and Bob Too, it’s also hilarious.
Rita and Sue are two teenage girls growing up in 1980s Bradford. They’re confident, sexual, and more than willing to start an affair with 27-year-old Bob, despite him being married with two children. The play, which is based on Andrea Dunbar’s own experience, tracks the journey of this relationship. Kate Wasserberg’s direction never shies away from the dark comedy. The audience was frequently drawn into inappropriate laughter. The genius of the play is that we’re never laughing at Rita and Sue. One of the funniest moments is when Bob leaves the car after having had sex with the girls for the first time, and they wonder if he realises that they lied about being virgins. The comedy gives them dignity and power over the situation.
This production can’t escape the current climate of #MeToo and Harvey Weinstein. In fact, it was almost of a victim of it. The Royal Court almost pulled its support over worries that the play had dated badly since 1982 and was now inappropriate to stage. However, Rita, Sue, and Bob Too shows a very nuanced picture of sexual grooming, which creates a much-needed discussion. Bob, played charmingly by James Atherton, is not a monster, despite his immoral actions. Rita and Sue, played vividly and humorously by Taj Atwal and Gemma Dobson actively pursue the relationship. It’s uncomfortable how relatable all the characters are, and how naturally the play comes to a conclusion that sees Rita pregnant and moving in with Bob.
The set is stark, with a block of flats on either side, four chairs, and a backdrop of Bradford as seen from the moors. Even when the lights are low, Bradford is still visible as we can see the lights come on in the flats. This reminds us how localised the play is, and how much the characters are shaped by their environment.
Out of Joint’s production of Rita, Sue, and Bob Too is fun to watch. But don’t let the humour deceive you, it’s also asking some interesting moral and political questions.
Runs until 17 February 2018 | Image: Contributed