How do you put on a play about 15-year-old girls sleeping with a married man in 2023?
A strangely light-hearted 'Rita Sue and Bob Too' from the Epstein Theatre
Dear members — there are things, many people believe, that simply can’t be said these days, such is the changing of tastes and sensibilities over time. And naturally, that applies to art too, be it books, films, songs or — as in this case — a play. Rita Sue and Bob Too, Andrea Dunbar’s 1982 play about two schoolgirls who have a fling with a married man, is a work that might be described as “problematic” in the lexicon of 2023. But is there a way to somehow make it work for a new era? We sent theatre aficionado Damon Fairclough along to find out.
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Your Post briefing
Instagram accounts that were responsible for the promotion of last Friday’s protest in Knowsley, which turned violent and saw a police van set alight, have been making plans for a repeat event. An account called lvplstopchecks has posted that it will be announcing details of the new event shortly (after another account which was key to promoting the first protest — aroundliverpool — was banned) and ran a poll of followers asking who would be willing to attend. They shared a post from scouse9800 telling followers to “Keep an eye open for next location @lvplstopchecks”. The account has also been asking for followers to share the personal details and addresses of Echo journalists, presumably in retaliation for the paper’s coverage of the protest.
Gerard Woodhouse — the County Ward councillor, L6 charity boss and subject of our four-month investigation into the veracity of many of his claims espoused in the Echo and other media outlets — will stand as an independent in May’s all-out council elections after being blocked by the Labour Party. The party cited his “lack of campaigning or Labour activities” as reasons he will not be allowed to stand again under their banner, which he responded to by saying his food bank work and mental health issues had prevented him from campaigning at times. Woodhouse has represented his ward since 2010 but was informed he would not be selected again by the party last year and has since lost an appeal. He claims to be a victim of an anti-Corbynite purge and said in a statement: "I have not been removed due to complaints but due to my campaigning, putting letters through doors in the south of the city. I had medical notes, lost my mum and dad and had major surgery.”
Beverley Joyce from St Helens had become one of the world’s first patients to receive a pioneering new form of cancer treatment at the Clatterbridge Cancer Centre in Liverpool. The treatment, known as MOAT, is designed to help the patient’s own immune system fight the disease by giving them a modified form of the virus, and will be used alongside radiotherapy and surgery. Professor Christian Ottensmeier at Clatterbridge said: “I have been in Oncology for a long time and seen many things come and go — so to see this develop in the way it is currently doing is very exciting." Beverley is one of five patients in the world to trial the treatment and is currently being monitored after going through several rounds of treatment.
🗣️ BBC presenter and historian-in-residence at National Museums Liverpool Laurence Westgaph leads a walking tour of Liverpool’s links to slavery, meeting at the entrance of the Maritime Museum. It’s free and there are multiple dates to choose from.
🥘 Guest chef Liv Alarcon invites you for a supper club on Liverpool’s quaintest street for “From Lark Lane with Love”. There’s four courses of seasonal food on offer, plus cocktails, all made with love. “4 courses of Amore, Amore, Amore” as they put it. Book here.
😂 Drown out the looming presence of Monday morning with laughter at Future Yard on Sunday night. They’ve got a new regular comedy night, Darkside Comedy Club, this time featuring Sam Avery, Lindsey Davies and Adam Staunton. Tickets cost £10.
By Damon Fairclough
If we’re not careful, the truth of being a teenager is quickly forgotten. Not so much the stuff we did — the larks and scrapes and near misses, the laughs and tears — but the truth of our assumptions and feelings about our place in the world.
At 15, it can feel as though the adult realm is just a whisker away, and in no time at all it will be ours to possess. But in so many ways we remain closer to being children than the grown-ups we so desperately want to be, and it’s within this state of psychological tension that the momentary drama of our teenage years plays out.
In Andrea Dunbar’s stage play, Rita, Sue and Bob Too, two 15-year-old girls traverse this territory together in ways that, four decades after it was first performed, have lost none of their ability to cause jaws to drop. After babysitting for Bob and his wife Michelle one night, Rita and Sue are given a lift home – Bob driving – when a detour over the moors turns into a one-after-the-other (Sue, then Rita) full-intercourse experience on the reclined front seat of Bob’s car.
The specifics may be invented but events and relationships portrayed in this startling play were drawn from Dunbar’s own teen years in Bradford, and being just 21 years old when she wrote it, it’s clear that for this unflinchingly honest playwright, the uncomfortable truth of those times never faded away.
Rita, Sue and Bob Too, first performed in 1982, was commissioned by London’s Royal Court following their production of Dunbar’s first play, The Arbor – a drama about a working-class girl of 15 who falls pregnant. Initially written as an English assignment at school when Dunbar herself was only 15, The Arbor also sprang directly from her own experience – her first child had only recently been stillborn. The brutal realities and desperate humour of Bradford’s Buttershaw estate, where she grew up and remained for the rest of her distressingly short life, were the bread and marge of her singular literary career.
When both plays were combined to create the 1987 film of Rita, Sue and Bob Too — Dunbar worked on the screenplay but disowned the studio-enforced ‘happy’ ending — her deeply deprived urban-rural edgeland estate became the setting for the decade’s latest state-of-Thatcher’s-nation Brit-comedy hit. If northern grit had enabled the BBC to conjure a string of Play For Today-style pearls throughout the 1970s and 80s, the new Channel Four took things a step further by turning such stories – often rooted in the contemporary Britain that lay far beyond London – into big-screen, cinema-packing gems.
Over 35 years later, the film’s frank and funny approach to what was always a transgressive (and illegal) relationship – older married man has regular sex with two 15-year-old girls who seem to enjoy it as much as he does – has helped it retain a cultish reputation and an after-image that lives long in the memory. The fact that it’s stuffed with a satchel full of fearsomely sweary one-liners – technicolour language in a pastel-shaded decade – has also helped.