Rita, Sue and Bob Too was written by Andrea Dunbar when she was 19 and was first performed in 1982. It has now been revived at the Royal Court Theatre in London in a fine and intriguing production.
Rita (Taj Atwal) and Sue (Gemma Dobson) are 15 year old girls who are babysitting Bob’s (James Atherton) children. On his way to taking them home, he stops his car in an out of the way place and has sex with both of them. The sex is consensual but the only conclusion to be drawn is that Bob will be arrested sooner or later and spend some serious time in prison. We wait for the event that will precipitate his arrest.
Sue and Rita continue having sex with Bob alone or together and there is no sign of the police.
Gemma Dobson (Sue), James Atherton (Bob) and Taj Atwal (Rita) .Phoyograph: Tristram Kenton
We meet Sue’s Dad (David Walker) and Mum (Sally Banks) and they are seriously unsavory, working class people who use foul language as a matter of course. Mum may have some redeeming features, but calling them Neanderthals is not too far off the mark. You get some idea of the pleasant atmosphere in Sue’s home.
Bob is married to Michelle (Samantha Robinson) an attractive, intelligent and sympathetic woman with perhaps a lower sexual drive than Bob’s. She is suspicious about his outings and becomes certain that he is cheating on her when she finds condoms in his pants.
Where is the police?
The police never come and I will not spoil the outcome of the play by revealing the ending. The explanation for the treatment of the situation comes from the author’s personal experiences. She was raised in a situation similar to that of Rita and Sue. She became pregnant three times by different men while still a teenager, became a heavy drinker and died in 1990 at the age of 29.
There is a resolution in the play but an unexpected one.
Taj Atwell as Rita, Gemma Dobson as Sue and James Atherton as Bob.
Atwal and Dobson speaking in a Yorkshire accent are convincing teenagers who are looking for a way out of their ugly life. They have hopes and dreams within the limited opportunities of having sex with a much older married man. By jumping to the current atmosphere of sexual abuse of women by men in authority from Donald Trump down we are missing the point of the lives of the teenagers and the choices that they make.
Atherton as Bob rationalizes his conduct by the fact that sex with his wife is infrequent and unsatisfactory. He is fine with having sex with the teenagers provided they do not tell each other of what is going on. His rationalization is as thin and as inexcusable as that of any predator of today’s crop or those of the past.
The set by Tim Shortall consists of a few chairs which are moved around to represent the car, Sue’s home and a store where the girls and Michelle work. Simple and effective.
Kate Wasserberg directs meticulously and effectively.
A very interesting play that combines the autobiographical and the imaginary. In 1982, when the play opened, were things that different that no one called the police or is this peculiar to the poor, working class milieu of Yorkshire. I don’t know but I admit that I kept looking for the police that never came.
Rita, Sue and Bob Too by Andrea Dunbar, in a production by Out of Joint, Octagon Theatre Bolton and the Royal Court Theatre runs until January 27, 2018 at the Jerwood Theatre Downstairs, Royal Court Theatre, Sloane Square, London. England. https://royalcourttheatre.com/