Theatre Review: Rita, Sue and Bob Too at St George’s Hall

Domestic abuse, poverty, unemployment, infidelity, dysfunctional families and the ill-effects of Thatcherism are all explored as the expletives fly in Dunbar’s darkly comic play, impressively written before the age of 18, by which time she was already a mother of three living on a rough Bradford estate.

Four chairs fashion a car with 27-year-old Bob (John Askew) driving and his two teenage (it’s OK, they’re nearly 16!) babysitters, Sue (Gemma Dobson) and Rita (Alyce Liburd) in the back, framed by an idyllic country scene as the backdrop. What follows, in Dunbar’s opening scene, is funny but notably shocking in its guilt-ridden humour as audiences howl with laughter while watching two young girls blatantly being groomed.

The show’s awkward laughs come from its directness, the disparagement between sexual lingo used by Bob and the two minors and at times the girls’ innocence as they question him: “Why have we stopped? Thought you were taking us for a ride.”

A delighted raucous audience, applaud and cheer as Bob climaxes after having sex with two underage girls in quick succession, spurred on by Sue’s words of encouragement to Rita: “Come on then – get stuck in there!” The audience almost Shakespearean in their rowdy reaction to this bawdy scene.

Out of Joint’s ensemble give unanimously multi-dimensional performances full of tenderness and realism. With extremely strong language, nudity and shocking subject-matter, Rita, Sue and Bob Too is certainly not family-friendly viewing but affectionate, challenging, thought-provoking and entertaining, albeit uncomfortable at times. Both its opening and closing scenes pose some difficult questions for viewers to ponder. Perhaps, most remarkable is Dunbar’s ability to continue post-humorously to make audiences into spectators, guiltily reflecting on their own morality.

Leo Owen