Rita, Sue and Bob Too – Review – Lawrence Batley Theatre

rita sue and bob too review york theatre royal november 2017

By @Steve Crabtree, January 2018

One of the most hysterical British films to have stood the test of time is the controversial comedy classic Rita, Sue and Bob Too. The original play was written in 1982 before being made into a film, shot on the Buttershaw estate in Bradford, in 1987. It was billed as “Thatcher’s Britain with her knickers down” on release.

Today, the comic tale of two sexually confident, working-class Bradford school girls has been developed in to a stage play. And tonight we’re here to see it, as it hits Huddersfield’s Lawrence Batley Theatre.

‘Tainted Love’ by Soft-Cell brings the main trio on to the stage as the play begins with the iconic scene in Bob’s car. Married Bob, played by James Atherton, has a shabby mullet, wears a shabby shell-suit jacket, and shabby Adidas trainers. He’s got the 80s look, even if it’s not the one that fans of the film will be accustomed to.

And this scene is where the awkward silence between Bob, Rita (Taj Atwal) and Sue (Gemma Dobson) turns in to the subject of the next hour and twenty-minutes. The subject of sex. Between an adult, and two teenage schoolgirl babysitters.

In 2018 we live in a world of extreme political correctness. And when the film version of Rita, Sue and Bob Too comes up in conversation today, the chatter is usually concluded with the words “…but they wouldn’t be able to make it now.”  So, it’s with an element of wonder as to whether this stage version is going to carry the more than daring, crossing-the-mark storyline that the big screen version brought with it back in 1987. Different times; will it buckle under the PC pressure, like so many other modern adaptations from back in the day?

Rita, Sue and Bob Too Production PhotosPhoto Credit : The Other Richard

“Roaring with laughter”

That wonder is dispelled very quickly, as the first C-Bomb of the evening is dropped by Sue. The audience who’ve already chuckled many times throughout the opening scene are now roaring with laughter.

Then we hit the sex-in-the-car-scene. And boy, do we hit a prolonged sex-in-the-car scene, as the characters negotiate the uncomfortable backseat throughout the awkwardly hilarious few minutes. And before we draw breath, the sight of the girls throwing the contraception away is something to be seen!

Sue’s parents – her drunken and abusive father (David Walker); and her battleaxe mother (Sally Bankes) enter the fray when Bob drops the girls’ home. We learn here that Rita and Sue are both only 15 years old, and with that comes a slight gulp in the air from the audience. But not an uneasy gulp. A gulp which recognises that this part of the story has remained untouched from the original and accept this part of the story line. No-one seems to be shocked that it’s still there… we’re pleased that this element hasn’t been diluted.  After all – the story is based on things that really went on in the life of original Rita Sue and Bob Too writer, Andrea Dunbar.

“People begin to face the music”

We’re treated to more 80s music as the stage is re-arranged by the cast between scenes. Michael Jackson, Blondie and Gary Numan provide an audible re-emphasis of the era that we’re in. And as truths come out, people begin to face the music.

In the areas of deprived and drunken West Yorkshire, those truths could only be greeted with a good old verbal bust up.  Firstly people are taking sides, but in the end everyone is verbally abusing each other.  Much to the audience’s delight, I may add!  The laughter hasn’t stopped. And it hits home that the serious subjects covered in Rita Sue and Bob Too are handled with comedy. That makes it still a fantastically entertaining show, even in 2018.

The stage version isn’t too dissimilar from the film.  It’s a full on romp-com, which subtly carries with it a serious undertone.  It’s a brilliant stage adaptation, and if you’re free for an evening until Saturday 3rd February, it’s a must see.


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