Reviewed by Jayne Wiggins
Rita, Sue and Bob Too was brought to Northampton’s Royal Theatre stage by the touring theatre company ‘Out of Joint‘. With a small cast of only six, this had a lot to live up to as I remembered the comedy film of the 1980s.
The oringinal 1982 film inspired the 1987 comedy drama film, set in 1980s Bradford. Adapted for stage by Andrea Dunbar it is a little cringey in 2017! Rita and Sue are teenage girls in their final year at school who live in a run down council estate. The plot surrounds their sexual relationship with married man Bob, who lives with his wife Michelle.
This show opened with a shocker which did nothing to relieve the knot in my stomach as I watched a play with a topic which can no longer be tolerated as a comedy. Rita and Sue are shown being driven home after babysitting for Bob and Michelle. Bob makes a few remarks about ‘Durex’ before stopping the car to engage in further sexual conversation. I have to admit, all I could think as I watched this scene unfold was that he was a sexual predator grooming two young girls. Whilst they certainly showed no signs of wanting to escape from the sexual encounter, I felt that a modern audience certainly sees something different in this show than original audiences might have.
The producers and actors were certainly brave as Bob talked the girls into having sex with him in the front seat of his car! The actors removed underwear as James Atherton playing Bob, showed his naked backside to the audience during his sexual encounter first with Sue and then Rita. The audience certainly appreciated this as their reaction was a mixture of gasps and loud laughs!
A shout out goes to Gemma Dobson for her portrayal of Sue. This play has been her stage debut, though her acting talent stands out. All the actors were perfect for the characters they played though I would have liked to see more 80s hair to have been able to transform myself back to the 80s.
The set design was simple and depressing! It really did show a run down council estate and the use of the car seats which were moved by the cast to turn into settees as well was a touch a simple genius. The music was nostalgic and well known 80s though I couldn’t shake the feeling that if we had been exposed to some lesser known tracks, I could have escaped the feeling of paedophilia in the present day! The tracks are so well known today that it was hard to escape back to a time when audiences were accepting the underage sex throughout the show.
The show went on to show Sue sneaking home but being confronted by her dad who has sat up, accusing her of being up to no good. David Walker was loud and perfect as the dad trying to assert his authority over his wayward daughter while his wife played by Sally Bankes, overruled him and defended Sue for her late night arrival.
Samantha Robinson was convincing as the cheated wife Michelle. Her character portrayal and costumes gave her an authenticity which did transform me back to the 80s when she was on stage.
Taj Atwal was gentle in her characterisation of Rita, who occasionally felt the guilt of helping a married man cheat on his wife. However, her young appearance also made this show even more cringeworthy for me! Her eventual pregnancy resulting from numerous secret sexual encounters with Bob, sometimes with Sue, sometimes on her own, only added to shock of a topic too raw in current affairs to be able to laugh at.
The shock factor of naked bottoms and the use of the ‘C’ word kept the audence on track, along with the acting making this a show worth seeing. The nostalgia of the 80s film was not there for me as the actors in the original film looked older even if their characters were still underage. Rita and Sue in this show looked just too young for me to ignore the topic of a married man grooming two young girls and engaging in peadophilia.
If you can look beyond the topic and set yourself back to an age before we were aware of some of the horrors children were going through, this is a show worth seeing. The actors are great but a little more diligence to costume and music would make it easier to ignore the obvious elephant in the room.
4/5 for a good show with a cringe factor I couldn’t ignore.
Tickets cost from £11 to £29 (booking fees may apply).
Rita, Sue and Bob Too is at the Royal & Derngate in Northampton from 31 October to 4 November 2017, for more information or to book tickets visit www.royalandderngate.co.uk or call the box office on 01604 624811.
Royal & Derngate, Guildhall Road, Northampton, NN1 1DP | 01604 624811