It’s 36 years since Andrea Dunbar’s breakthrough play announced the all-too-brief flowering of a new writing talent – “a genius straight from the slums,” as the Mail on Sunday snobbishly described her. A lot has changed since then; indeed, much has changed in the last year, after women – mainly women, but also a few men – finally called time on the sexual harassment and abuse of power long part of “the Business they call Show”.
Dunbar doesn’t judge; nor does she lecture. Her characters stand as they are.
So, perhaps it was only to be expected that, initially at least, the Royal Court suddenly felt it unwise to revive a play which could be said to focus on a 27-year-old married man satisfying his lust with two naive babysitters – both “not quite 16”. Yet that’s arguably a misreading of even the play’s title—in which “Bob” almost sounds like an afterthought. This is, first and foremost, a play about the two young women, Rita and Sue, and their attempts to have some all-too-fleeting fun in a world unlikely to offer them any other prospects.
Dunbar arguably shows us they’re exploited, but it’s economic as much as sexual; yes, Bob doubles Rita and Sue’s baby-sitting money as he takes them on a detour up the moor, en route checking how much they know about condoms and sex. When they leave school, the girls end up slaving away on a Youth Employment Scheme, a strike ironically cutting their paltry pay-packets even further. No wonder they look to Bob for excitement and adventure, but even he’s not always able to deliver, when a lack of work forces him to consider selling his love-nest car.
Dunbar doesn’t judge; nor does she lecture. Her characters stand as they are, although it helps having someone like James Atherton – formerly of Hollyoaks and Coronation Street – as Bob, although he still loses our sympathies once he denies his actions. Yet the stars of the show remain Taj Atwal as the increasingly guilt-ridden Rita and Gemma Dobson as the far less guilty Sue; perfectly encapsulating their heady journey from fun-seekers to lost dreams.