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Gritty, no holds barred drama still has power to shock
How times have changed. When the film version of Rita, Sue & Bob Too was released in 1987 it caused something of a stir with its graphic portrayal of a married family man having a full-blooded sexual affair with two 15-year-old schoolgirls. But fast forward more than 30 years to this latest stage revival and the reaction of a large portion of the audience who watched it at the Lichfield Garrick theatre during its UK tour. Instead of surprise, or even shock, at the no-holds barred sex scenes in Bob's car, and the regular swearing throughout, a significant number of people in the audience resorted to schoolboy-style sniggering and giggling, as well as catcalls being shouted out encouraging Bob's 'performance' during the simulated sexual encounters.
John Askew as Bob with Gemma Dobson (left) as Sue and Alyce Liburd as Rita. Credit Hana Kovacs
It is a credit to the excellent cast in this new production by Kate Wasserberg for Out of Joint Theatre that they rose above the noisy distractions. Andrea Dunbar's semi-autobiographical play, which was later made into the film starring George Costigan, Michelle Holmes and Siobhan Finneran as Bob, Sue and Rita, is still set in an impoverished northern community facing up to factory closures and short-time working at the time of Thatcher's Britain. Perhaps it would be difficult to switch the setting to the modern day with apparent record levels of employment, but strip away this gritty 80s backdrop and you still have the essential story of a sex-hungry man risking his marriage by embarking on an illegal affair with a pair of schoolkids who babysat his two children.
Rita (left) and Sue reflect on their affair with Bob. Credit Hana Kovacs
John Askew is outstanding as the arrogant, womanising Bob who thinks it perfectly acceptable to cheat on his wife on the pretext that he's not getting enough sex at home, while Gemma Dobson (Sue) and Alyce Liburd (Rita) are equally excellent as the bored amoral teenagers looking for adventure without any regard for the consequences. The play's shorter length compared to the movie sadly doesn't allow for us to see more of Bob's wife Michelle, well played by Samantha Robinson in the role that Lesley Sharp brought to the big screen. A reduced cast is completed by David Walker and Susan Mitchell as Sue's feuding parents who can't even agree how much their daughter is to blame for the mess that eventually unfolds.
Rating: 4 out of 5 (less for the audience)
The affair starts when Bob takes the girls home after babysitting his kids. Credit Hana Kovacs
Rita, Sue and Bob Too can be seen at the Lichfield Garrick until Saturday 6 April. Tickets costing £17 can be obtained by visiting www.lichfieldgarrick.com or by calling the theatre box office on 01543 412121.