Citizens Theatre, Glasgow
As teenage baby-sitters Rita and Sue are presumed to be initiated into the ways of the world in twenty-something sleaze-bag Bob’s car, the opening of Andrea Dunbar’s still brutally funny fly on the wall study of life on the margins of Thatcher’s Britain looks like a Viz comic cartoon come to life. Played by Taj Atwal and Gemma Dobson with a fearless vivacity in Kate Wasserberg’s revival for Out of Joint, these already hard-bitten kid-ults know a lot more than they let on.
Three and a half decades since Dunbar’s play first shook up the London stage, this sense of street-smart sass is what drives it, with its reflections of more recent sightings of everyday sexual grooming now looking obvious where they once hid in plain sight. Set in front of a mural-sized photograph of Bradford by night, just a few chairs and the entrance to a tenement block are onstage to house Rita and Sue’s already spartan lives. The soap opera that unfolds is far grislier than anything on the episodes of Coronation Street the girls watch en route to the painful transition to becoming grown-ups.
Viewed today, the result is a time capsule that’s as much a document of social apartheid and the thrill-seeking extremes which underclass boredom on sink estates inspires as tragi-comic drama. Set to a score of 1980s hits slowed down to a narcotically woozy sludge, the dialogue’s noisy surface hilarity has a far bleaker under-current pulsing every line. In this way, Dunbar’s play is a template for everything from This is England through to Shameless. Like them, as Sue’s Mum and Bob’s ex-wife Michelle cling together for comfort at the play’s bittersweet end, some kind of damaged and dysfunctional community remains against all odds.
The Herald, February 16th 2018