BWW Review: RITA, SUE AND BOB TOO, Royal Court
It hasn't been an easy journey for this piece to get to the Court. The theatre initially removed the show from its programming, because of its links with ousted Out of Joint director Max Stafford-Clark, who left the company in September 2017, amidst allegations of inappropriate sexual behaviour.
Stafford-Clark was the one who first commissioned Rita, Sue and Bob Too; he'd already directed it twice, and was about to co-direct, until he left the production three days into the five-week rehearsal period. Because of its links with the director, Vicky Featherstone, artistic director of the Court, faced an impossible decision of whether or not to stage it.
In recent months she has been at the forefront of championing the #NoGreyArea movement, and in late October held an event that brought together many people to have their stories of sexual assault heard. It was a momentous day, perhaps the most important date in theatre's 2017 calendar.
On hearing news of the shows removal, there was backlash from the general public, who complained that a working-class female's voice had been silenced. Featherstone decided to reverse the cancellation, and we should be grateful that she did. Andrea Dunbar's voice seems like a necessary addition to the conversation happening now.
Drawing on her own experiences of growing up, Dunbar writes with an immediate frankness, and her stark concept of reality doesn't hold back. Her no-filter approach tells a story of how two best friends end up in a compromising engagement that alters their lives forever.
Taj Atwal and Gemma Dobson play our Rita and Sue. Their demeanour is certainly childlike; they giggle away at inflated condoms and bounce off one another's energy. At the same time, the characters constantly crave adulthood, and Atwal and Dobson approach Dunbar's raw dialogue with a brutal honesty. This is Dobson's stage debut and it is an impressive one.
At times, some of the production's execution is messy. Moments that should be taken seriously generate audience laughter, making the atmosphere at times a little bit uncomfortable. Perhaps this is what is wanted; to make you sit and reflect on what's happening on stage, and your views towards it.
Dunbar's play is an astonishing piece of writing. It's bleak, gritty, humorous and warm. However, it isn't always shown - which is a tremendous shame. Whilst Kate Wassenburg's production is an enjoyable one to sit through, the play's revival doesn't feel vital, and you find yourself, like these two girls, always searching for more.
Rita, Sue and Bob Too at the Royal Court until 27 January
Photo Credit: Tristram Kenton