The Theatreguide.London Review
Sue And Bob Too
Royal Court Theatre January 2018 and touring
Andrea Dunbar's comedy-drama, written in 1982 when she was 19, was one of the first in an admirable Royal Court tradition of staging plays by talented teenage writers, and it is well deserving of a revival. In fact, it deserves a better revival than this one.
Dunbar's tale begins as a light comedy, only to reveal a sad underside.
When teenagers Rita and Sue babysit for him and his wife, Bob drives them home and, half in jest, suggests some in-car sex. To his delight they agree, and there is some slapstick comedy as they take their turns in cramped couplings.
Everyone enjoys themselves enough to repeat the adventure frequently thereafter, in what feels at first like a cross between a Ray Cooney sex farce and a Joe Orton satire of moral blind spots.
But the sadness comes as we realise that the girls agreed to the sex with about the same enthusiasm with which they would have accepted the offer of ice cream.
Not only are their provincial working-class lives limited – at one point the idea of a trip to London is rejected as fantasy – but so is their capacity for living those lives.
They experience everything within a narrow emotional band ranging from mild annoyance to mind enjoyment, with so little distinction that there is barely any difference between happiness and unhappiness. And when their adventure ends with public exposure for all, the two girls are the least affected.
Dunbar makes this discovery of the girls' so-very-muted existence completely believable and deeply saddening.
The current revival brings nothing to the play. Director Kate Wasserberg is unable to create a sense of time or place, or to guide her actors to much more than remembering their lines and not bumping into the furniture.
There is an oddly enervated air to the production, as if we were seeing an exhausted cast at the end of a long and unpleasant run, with everyone just going through the motions and counting the days until their release. (The production has in fact been touring since September and will move on from the Royal Court.)
Everyone involved is a professional, and there is a level beneath which they will not sink, but very little rises above the merely competent.
There is a backstory to this, which should be mentioned even though it can not be offered as an excuse.
The production was meant to be co-directed by its original director Max Stafford-Clark, but he withdrew when accusations of historic inappropriate sexual behaviour made his connection to this play's subject unwise.
The Royal Court actually panicked and cancelled this run in the fear that the subject was untimely, but regained its courage and reinstated it a day later.
While these external events may have left everyone involved a little shaken, it doesn't explain the directorial failure to create a reality for the play and characters to inhabit it.
Rita, Sue And Bob Too is worth seeing just because the play itself is so strong. But this revival does too little to serve the play, the playwright or the audience.
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