Rita, Sue and Bob Too – Warwick Arts Centre, Coventry

Writer:  Andrea Dunbar

Director: Kate Wasserberg

Reviewer: Selwyn Knight

It’s the early 1980s and Rita, Sue and Bob have a secret: after babysitting Bob’s children, Bob gives schoolgirls Rita and Sue a lift home but rather than go straight home they divert to a local beauty spot and each girl, in turn, ‘has a jump’ with Bob. Bob tells the girls that Michelle, his wife, isn’t interested in sex any more. In turn, they convince themselves that they enjoy Bob’s attention and the rushed and cramped sex he provides each in his car while the other watches. And have no illusions, the graphically depicted sex in this production makes it clear that this is not that of a fairytale romance, whatever the girls might tell themselves and each other; this is sordid animal coupling as impressionable girls keen to grow up are manipulated by the older man.

But it’s hard to keep secrets like that. Michelle and the girls’ families become suspicious at the length of time they apparently spend on such a short journey. Bob takes more risks, seeing each girl individually between babysitting sessions too. Truth will out and what then for Rita, Sue, Bob and their families?

There are few likeable characters in this but many superb performances. Michelle (Samantha Robinson) is the most sympathetic as she tries to deal with a husband who belittles her in front of others and is a serial betrayer. Despite her growing suspicions, she still loves him. Her conflicting emotions are clear as her journey continues. Rita and Sue (Taj Atwal and Gemma Dobson) are complex characters and Atwal and Dobson show that well. Their bluff bravado as they convince themselves they are having fun in the best of all times barely covers their vulnerability underneath. Writer Andrea Dunbar has a fine ear for dialogue so that the whole flows and insecurities are laid bare. The suppressed emotions in exchanges when the girls discuss just how wonderful a man Bob is, whether they sometimes think what they are doing is wrong and whether they should get steady boyfriends are well written and performed, the contrast between their imagined world and reality laid clear. Facial expressions and body language go a long way to exposing the lies behind the girls’ words and front.

Despite the girls’ apparent eagerness, James Atherton’s Bob is a vile abuser, although he does manage to wring just a little sympathy for him: his self-image as a man depends on his sexual prowess and his despair at finding himself impotent at one point is clear.

In supporting rôles as Sue’s old-fashioned parents, Sally Bankes and David Walker provide some background for the girls’ motivations and desires to escape, as well as providing some comedy moments. Indeed, this is a very funny play despite its heavyweight subject matter and this is thanks to Dunbar’s matter-of-fact writing and Director Kate Wasserburg’s sure hand. The whole is punctuated by hits of the 1980s, including the apposite Tainted Love, that ease transitions – supported by Tim Shortall’s simple set and the use of a few car seats to stand in for furniture.

The characters in Rita, Sue and Bob Too are all fooling themselves that they are in control of their lives. That is clearly not true, even for arch-manipulator Bob, and one is left with the hope that the characters’ futures might not be too blighted by his actions.

Runs until 21 October 2017 and on tour | Image: Richard Davenport

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Tainted Love

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The Central team is under the editorship of Selwyn Knight. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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