West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds
Opened 29 July, 1998

Nostalgia is catching up with us. Current "period" hit film TheWedding Singer harks back to the heady days of 1985, and now West Yorkshire's revival of the late Andrea Dunbar's 1982 play is billed as "an '80s classic".

In fact, Rita, Sue & Bob Too does feel in some ways as if it is an echo from another world a world where a 27-year-old man having it off with a pair of 15-year-old schoolgirls is a matter for brash humour rather than blind, allegedly anti-paedophilic outrage. These were the days in which best friends dressed absolutely identically, when it was even remotely plausible that Rita and Sue might never have heard the name Durex, when Vince Clarke was a semi-permanent chart fixture either with Depeche Mode, Yazoo or The Assembly. Clarke's unbelievably cheeky score is the fourth principal character in Natasha Betteridge's production: biting not just the hand that once fed him but every other limb in sight, the doyen of synth-pop has created a series of marvellously brazen pastiches of hits of the era, from "Tainted Love" to "Papa's Got A Brand New Pigbag" by way of Madness and (saints preserve us) "Axel F.".

To an extent, any stage production is now inevitably going to be compared to the seminal Film on Four version, directed by Alan Clarke and adapted by Dunbar herself. The play stands up well, and is all the more remarkable for having been written when Dunbar was barely 20 years old: necessarily tighter of focus, it only loses its sureness of touch in a contrived Bradford-sisterhood-propping-up-the-bar "All men are no good" ending, but this is more than counterbalanced by a magnificent six-way confrotntation scene shortly before. The action bowls along for 80 uninterrupted minutes on Neil Irish's set, which cleverly folds four different interiors and a stretch of moorland complete with four-door saloon car onto the less than expansive Courtyard stage. Michelle Abrahams and Hannah Storey bop impudently around as the girls, and Willie Ross gives an enjoyable reprise of his performance as a moronically drunken father in the TV version of Our Friends In The North. Thomas Craig's Bob seems a little on the tentative side his opening-scene sex lecture comes over as earnest rather than tantalising, and one often feels that the girls are taking advantage of him more than he is of them. But as a straightforward combination of fluff and grit, Rita, Sue & Bob Too still works, and works well.

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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