Skip to main content

Home Events

‘Rita, Sue and Bob Too’ at the Royal Court Theatre, London – review

"This is exactly what we should be watching".

By Fabio Crispim

This seminal play arrives at the Royal Court not without controversy. Co-director Max Stafford-Clark withdrew from the project three days into rehearsal amidst claims of inappropriate, sexualised behaviour.

Artistic Director Vicky Featherstone then scrapped the play, saying the themes of female exploitation, grooming and manipulation of young girls was insensitive in the current climate. However, this decision was hastily reversed.

Kudos to Featherstone for listening and reacting to the public and reinstating the play. After all, why should yet another woman’s voiced be silenced due to the inappropriate behaviour of men. This is exactly what we should be watching – it’s uncomfortable, grubby, sad and thought provoking theatre.

Fifteen-year-old Rita and Sue are best friends. The play opens with them getting a lift home from married Bob after babysitting his kids. He takes a detour and pulls over offering them “a bit of fun”.

Royal Court Theatre

And so begins a three-way affair with disaster written all over it. The sex between Bob and the girls in the opening scene is excruciatingly drawn out and will leave many looking elsewhere while waiting for it to finish – much like the girls themselves. This is a brutal, uncompromising childhood where Rita and Sue are not so much brought up but dragged up.

Rita (Taj Atwal) and Sue (Gemma Dobson) are both brilliant in their roles and move from wide eyed innocence to giggling conspiracy, both desperate for adult adventure.

Bob (James Atherton) embodies the unemployed, sad, angry, disenfranchised male of Thatcher’s Britain. His actions make him easy to dislike however Atherton gives a nuanced and fully rounded performance making him far from the typical villain of the piece.

Royal Court Theatre

There is strong support from Samantha Robinson as Bob’s wife Michelle and Sally Bankes and David Walker as Sue’s Mum and Dad. All give excellent performances of emotional depth and truth that packs a punch.

Playwright Andrea Dunbar grew up on Bradford’s Buttershaw Estate and she wrote from her own experiences. The work doesn’t preach or judge but simply shows her world in all it’s grubby complexity. It may be uncomfortable viewing but it is an important production galvanised by strong performances and a female voice which refuses to be silenced.

Rating – 4/5

Rita, Sue and Bob Too plays at the Royal Court until Saturday 27 January.

Words by Matthew Hyde