Wednesday, 10 April 2019

REVIEW: Rita, Sue And Bob Too - The Lowry Theatre, Salford.


When Bradford born teenager Andrea Dunbar wrote “Rita, Sue And Bob Too”, she probably wasn’t expecting it to become a cult movie just five years later, nor for it to still be performed on stage to both old and new fans. However, the subjects touched in the 80-minute play (no interval) are still very relevant today, especially following the recent “#MeToo” movement, which finally gave a voice to the many previously silenced women who had been victims of sexual harassment and exploitation.

The opening scene is of 27 year old married man Bob (John Askew), giving two 15-year-old teenagers Rita (Alyce Liburd), and Sue (Gemma Dobson) a lift home following an evening of babysitting his children. Driving them to the secluded surrounding moors, Bob decides to start quizzing the girls on sex, pulling out a Durex he asks them if they know how to put one on. Shortly after, the two teens take turns in having sex in the front of Bobs car, which soon becomes the usual end of evening routine; the only bit of adventure and happiness in the teens bleak lives of poverty, lack of career prospects, alcoholic fathers and domestic violence.

Bob in comparison has a decent standard of living, a steady job, nice home, disposable income, a social life, two kids and a devoted wife - all things that he later risks losing, suddenly finding himself struggling to find employment following redundancy.

What makes this story so memorable other than the obvious awkward sex scenes, is the firm friendship between Rita and Sue. Through thick and thin the girls are each other’s rocks, something both Dobson and Liburd portray beautifully. The scenes in which the pair giggle and talk in perfect sync capture the characters Dunbar portrayed in her original transcript perfectly. (Dunbar grew up on the same estate in which the story is set).

Askew captures both sides of Bob's character with ease - the self entitled bloke (who claims he seeks sex from elsewhere because wife Michelle thinks that “once a week is too much”) who doesn’t bat an eyelash in seducing the two teens, to the vulnerable guy following his job loss and his fall from grace.

The stage-set is simple yet effective, set to a painted backdrop of the Bradford skyline and surrounding moors, which magically transition from day to night throughout the story, the painted house windows lit up in the darkness. With the garish concrete housing estate flats complete with balconies at the side of the stage and just four vintage leather bus-type chairs being swiftly moved round between scenes to form Bob's car, Sue’s parent's lounge furniture and Bob's comfortable living room, it’s the characters which bring Dunbar’s play to life.

Gemma Dobson captures the confident Sue, who, despite having to skip PE at school because her parents can’t afford the PE kit, being the brunt of her alcoholic father's anger and her mother's despair of the quality of life the family have, decides to grab the bull by the horns so to speak and get whatever fun she can from her time with Bob, regardless of the consequences that might lie ahead. Alyce Liburd as Rita is a more reserved and vulnerable teen, so vulnerable infact she’s blissfully unaware that Sue and Bob are regularly meeting up without her. There’s a sadness that can be seen deep within her soul, despite not yet having left school, it’s as if she already can sense that the future ahead is bleak and devoid of all hope.

Sam Robinson as Michelle brings depth to the character - already fully aware that Bob has a habit of playing around with young girls, she tries to give him the benefit of the doubt but soon grows suspicious of his behaviour.

There isn’t a weak link within the small cast and whilst the stage set is small and simple, the fast-paced scene changes make the 80 minutes seem like just 8 minutes. It captures the northern grittiness of the 1987 movie without feeling dated. However I still felt like something was missing from this production but can’t quite put my finger on just what that missing thing is. I had previously seen a different company put on a sensational performance of the play in a large Wakefield Theatre so maybe it’s just seeing it on a smaller, stripped back scale which has made me feel like something was missing. My isgiving aside, this is a must-see production in its own right.

It’s such a shame that Dunbar died in 1990 aged just 29; it would have been wonderful for her to have seen that her story is still much loved decades later. It’s also sad that Dunbar was paid a pittance for the success of the 1987 movie adaptation (which made at least £2 million), however her legacy lives on through The Andrea Project, which gives young people the opportunity to develop their ambitions and develop skills regardless of their background.

Out Of Joint Theatre Company's production of Dunbar’s play continues its run at The Lowry Theatre until Saturday 13th April, before going “home” to Bradford from the 18th.

Reviewer - Lottie Davis-Browne
on - 9/4/19

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