Rita, Sue and Bob Too at The Lowry Manchester Review

9-13 April 2019

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Reviewed by Kathryn Carr

Date night this week (or is that this month) was a trip to The Lowry Theatre in Salford Quays, Manchester to see ‘Rita, Sue and Bob Too’. I was familiar with the plot as I watched the cult film (particularly considered so up North) several times as a teenager. I had no idea it was originally a play until I read said information in the programme. Nevertheless, that didn’t change my opinion that the production is maybe best-suited to an audience familiar with the 1987 film. Read on.

‘Rita, Sue and Bob Too’ is a comedy yet it deals with a whole host of not so funny themes – unemployment, poverty, domestic issues and at the very heart of it – the affair between a married man and two teenage babysitters. The succession of abuse and grooming scandals that have come to light over the years could perhaps immediately throw this play into controversial debate.

Back when I first watched the film (following the ‘Have you seen it?’ whispers at school and consequent nose to screen, volume down viewing, not wanting my parents to catch me), there was clearly a risqué element to it. That however, seemed to be more about the sex scenes in general rather than the whole underage aspect. Or was that just my young naivety? Watching the stage show at almost 40 with two young girls of my own, there was perhaps more to question. If someone was to watch it without so much as a hint as to the writer’s background or without having been a fan of the film, they may well struggle to deal with the more in the know audience’s laughter. Of which there was a lot. I did laugh. As per the film, the aforementioned sex scenes are comical, certainly not erotic. Though, the fact that the leading ladies are in fact schoolgirls meant my laughs were laced with guilt. 

‘Rita, Sue and Bob Too’ could make for uncomfortable viewing but it works. What makes this piece a success is its confrontational style through no-nonsense characters. They’re real, the language is raw and the topics are relevant. It gets laughs, all be some of them, a little nervous. The play written by Andrea Dunbar was first staged in 1982 and though times have changed since the Thatcher era, they certainly aren’t unrecognisable, with the problems faced by the characters just as relevant today as back then. There’ll be some people who can identify with the way of life portrayed and others who’ll consider the whole thing the result of a distasteful imagination. The play is actually semi-autobiographical and I believe not written with the intention to shock but to merely portray life as it was for many, in one of the poorest areas of Bradford.

‘Rita, Sue and Bob Too’ shows how as much as life can be hard, downbeat and depressing, particularly for those less well-off, laughter is key. The cast do a fantastic job of showing off the attributes of their characters. Gemma Dobson who plays Sue, does a particularly good job of escaping a stereotype by portraying her ‘alter-ego’ to be witty, straight-talking and nobody’s fool whilst also hinting at her softer, forgiving and more vulnerable side. 

The staging is absolutely minimal, just a static Bradford backdrop with a high rise flat at the forefront and several chairs which the cast move around the stage, mimicking a car and then, in the next scene, set up to represent a living room. And alongside the 80’s fashion and top-notch performances, that’s all that’s required to transport the audience into the lives of these working-class characters. 

Rita, Sue and Bob Too is produced by Out of Joint, a national company who aim to create ‘socially engaged shows of outstanding quality, that spark and enrich conversations’. I couldn’t have summed up the show better! 

The show took place at The Lowry’s Quays Theatre, the smaller of the venue’s two theatres with a comfortable, intimate feel. The Lowry’s position amongst restaurants and bars make for an ideal date night location or perfect place to meet up with friends. There’s a multi-storey car park on site, adding to the convenience factor. 

Rating: 4/5

Tickets cost from £20.50 to £27.50 (booking fees may apply).

Rita, Sue and Bob Too is at The Lowry in Manchester from 9-13 April 2019, for more information or to book tickets visit www.thelowry.com or call the box office on 0843 208 6000.

The Lowry, Pier 8, Salford Quays, Manchester, M50 3AZ | 0843 208 6000

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