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It is a testament to Andrea Dunbar’s skills as a writer that she makes a collection of genuinely unlikeable characters in a sordid situation entertaining.
This play made its debut thirty-seven years ago, set in an austerity ridden Britain with a woman Prime Minister whose major political achievement was to divide the country. Yep, that’s what I said, thirty-seven years ago.
This piece, however, is not about politics, it is about morality. It centres on Bob (John Askew), a married man and father of two having sex with not one, but two, fifteen-year olds – Rita (Alyce Liburd) and Sue (Gemma Dobson). Bob’s wife Michelle (Samantha Robinson) suspects that something is going on, but nobody seems bothered by the legalities surrounding the age of consent at all, let alone the morals.
The success of Film Four International’s film of the same name in 1987 and directed by Alan Clarke, has somewhat eclipsed the play. The film is described as a comedy-drama, the play is much gutsier with a raw edge to it.
Bob is a Neanderthal male driven by sex, Rita and Sue are young and out to discover new things, and whether they know it or not, are adept at teasing men who… well, lets face it, can’t help themselves! Sue’s Dad (David Walker) is unemployed and drunk, his parental skills confined to swearing and using his belt.
It is Sue’s Mum (Susan Mitchell) wherein lies a glimmer of hope. For it is she who doesn’t want her daughter to ruin her life with an unwanted pregnancy, urging her to ‘take precautions’. Somehow that advice seems to have worked, for it is not she who ends up carrying the baby.
There is a wonderful scene when the truth comes out and all six characters engage in a bout of intellectual verbal reasoning – well, each shouts the other down with either the F word, or the C word or sometime the S word.
The play is short and to the point, running just seventy-five minutes with no intermission. There are simulated sex scenes and lots of swearing but don’t be put off by that. Although set in Bradford, there will be echoes of Rita’s & Sue’s story all over the country and, though it saddens me to say so, it is as relevant today as it was when a nineteen-year-old Andrea Dunbar wrote it all those years ago.