Friday, 23 February 2018

Rita, Sue and Bob

Rita, Sue and Bob Too

Unnecessary revival of 1980s’ gritty realism
2 stars

Gareth K Vile
Despite promising controversy – the plot revolves around the grooming of two school girls – Rita, Sue and Bob Too is a dreary production that has little to add to any debate about sexuality and exploitation. From an early sex scene that is played for laughs – the raising of the houselights does not add any clever commentary to the act of theatrical voyeurism but simply emphasis the flatness of the interpretation – to an amoral finale that appears to accept the cycle of female oppression with a wry smile, Andrea Dunbar’s script is populated with caricatures and humour that relies on comic swearing rather than wit or insight.

The controversy of this Royal Court production-  it was briefly banned in the light of the producer of the debut production, Max Stafford-Clark, being accused of sexual harassment – threw up questions about the play’s suitability for contemporary audiences, and whether paedophilia is an appropriate subject for a light comedy. 

Regardless of its moral relevance, a script that lacks character development – nobody changes throughout the action, despite divorce, domestic violence and pregnancies – repeats the same conversations in scene after scene – mainly Rita and Sue concluding that they shouldn’t feel any guilt for sleeping with another woman’s husband – and introduces a blunt foreshadowing when Rita buys perfume from Bob’s wife Michelle and then throws it away in a punchline to another scene that covers exactly the same ground, doesn’t deserve any revival, and Kate Wasserberg’s direction lacks the boldness that could open up a discussion around the issue of consent, agency and aimlessness that the play suggests.

Dunbar’s script has been praised for its naturalism, and Wasserberg clearly rejects any attempts to exaggerate the characters: the ensemble cast turn in solid performances, and the sexual intrigue of the titular trio is stripped of any erotic tension. Sadly, this exposes the weakness of naturalism: it lacks dynamic tension, and the inevitable shouting match that results from the revelation of the three-way affair isn’t made any more telling through its resemblance to a street-corner argument on Sauchiehall Street.

Ironically, it simply plays into stereotypes of the lumpen proletariat: Rita and Sue have no ambitions, Bob has a crisis of masculinity, Bob’ wife Michelle is a victim who has a brief moment of victory at the end, and Sue’s parents are a violent slob and a predictably protective mother. The production is true to Dunbar’s writing, but this isn’t necessarily a virtue. 

Stuck in 1980s culture, the allusions to Maggie Thatcher’s rule on behalf of the rich (at one point, Bob might have to sell his car because work has dried up) only date the production: while the theme of female friendship is present, it is hopeless and far from empowering – only motherhood or alcohol provide any respite. The strongest character – Michelle – is treated as a joke for most of the production and her redemption through self-reliance is revealed in a final dialogue, tacked on after the finale when Rita moves in with Bob. Theatre’s habit of presenting the horrors of working class life for crass entertainment – also seen In Scottish Opera’s recent Greek exposes a culture’s voyeuristic love of taking holidays in other people’s misery. 

Citizens Theatre, run ended

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