Brief, hilarious, angry, and blazing with honesty, Andrea Dunbar’s Rita, Sue And Bob Too bursts onto the stage of the Citizens’ like a play from the past that is somehow more contemporary than most plays written today. As in Alan Clarke’s much-loved 1987 film, the story of the 80-minute play – first seen in London in 1982 – is simple; a married man in his late 20s starts a back-seat affair with his two teenage babysitters, aged just 15, one night when he is driving them home to the run-down Bradford housing estate where they live.
Citizens’ Theatre, Glasgow ****
In this stage version, though, the focus is less on Bob and his dilemmas, and much more on the two girls, the bond between them, and the role Bob plays in driving them apart.
The women of the community loom large, with the final scene played out not in a jolly threesome romp after Bob’s wife leaves him, but between Sue’s indomitable mum and Bob’s now-divorced wife, in a local bar.
And the play raises relentless, enduring questions about how society should deal with girls of this fragile age, physically mature, sexually curious, but still far too young to face the challenges raised by a full sexual relationship with a much older man. Questioned by his wife, Bob repeatedly says, “They’re just kids, I wouldn’t touch them. You know I wouldn’t do that.”
There’s nothing simplistic, though, about Dunbar’s vision of her characters. Sue – brilliantly played by Gemma Dobson in an outstanding professional debut – is a tough, motor-mouthed character who may be hurt, but knows how to survive. Taj Atwal’s Rita is more fragile; and all three are members of a dysfunctional Thatcher’s Britain community where self-esteem is at rock bottom, and good judgment an early casualty.
Kate Wasserberg’s production captures all the pace, wit and brutality of the story on a simple set featuring only four car seats, the hint of a block of council flats, and a backdrop of Bradford seen from the moors. And Emma Laxton’s sound squeezes and slows familiar 80s hits in a way that challenges our memories of that brutal and dynamic decade; and also invites us to ask how much has changed, in a world where sexual grooming is still rife, and where many teenage girls are still so curious, needy and unprotected that they mistake rank sexual exploitation for the real thing, and take risks that can damage their lives, for good.
Final performances today