Dunbar, Andrea 1961-1990
DUNBAR, Andrea 1961-1990
PERSONAL: Born 1961, in England; died of a brain hemorrhage December 20, 1990, in England; children: three.
AWARDS, HONORS: Levine Award, 1981, for The Arbor; a room in the Bradford Library has been named for Dunbar.
The Arbor (also see below; produced in London, England at Royal Court Theatre, 1980), Pluto Press (London, England), 1980.
Rita, Sue, and Bob Too (also see below; produced in London, England at Royal Court Theatre, 1982), Methuen (London, England), 1982.
Shirley (also see below; produced in London, England at Royal Court Theatre, 1986), Methuen (London, England), 1988.
The Arbor; Rita, Sue, and Bob Too; Shirley, Methuen (London, England), 1988.
ADAPTATIONS: Rita, Sue, and Bob Too was adapted for television and produced by Channel 4, 1986.
SIDELIGHTS: When working-class English playwright Andrea Dunbar died at the age of twenty-eight of a brain hemorrhage, she left behind the three plays for which she will be remembered: The Arbor, Rita, Sue, and Bob Too, and Shirley. She also left behind three children, all of whom were born, by different fathers, by the time Dunbar was twenty-three years old.
Dunbar's first play, The Arbor, was written as an assignment for a drama class. Candidly autobiographical—Dunbar uses her own name in the play—it is the story of her pregnancy at age fifteen and of her baby, who was stillborn at six months. Within eighteen months Dunbar was pregnant again with her daughter Lorraine, was being threatened by the baby's father, and was living in a women's shelter. A worker at the shelter acquired a copy of The Arbor and after passing the play along, Dunbar's work was submitted to the Royal Court Young Writers Festival.
Impressed by The Arbor, stage director Max Stafford-Clark commissioned Dunbar's second play. Rita, Sue, and Bob Too is a somewhat autobiographical story of two schoolgirls who have grown up on the economically depressed Buttershaw council estate in Bradford, England and who initiate an affair with a married man. In the then-eighteen-year-old playwright's drama, the two girls take turns with the philandering Bob in the back seat of his car. Guardian reviewer Chris Arnot found the play "shocking, even by the Royal Court's standards, in its portrayal of life in what has become known as 'the underclass.' It was not an expression that Dunbar would have recognized. She just lived in the underclass."
Produced by the Royal Court Theatre in 1982, Rita, Sue, and Bob Too caused a small furor. Dubbed by one wag "Thatcher's Britain with its knickers down," Dunbar's play was adapted as a television film that was released just as Bradford's town council was launching its promotional campaign "Bouncing Back with Bradford." David Brindle noted in the Manchester Guardian that, amidst the controversy, Dunbar told a reporter for the Yorkshire Post: "This is life, the facts are there. The guardians of our morals can stand back and gasp, but these things go on—maybe not in their circles, but certainly in mine. Young girls do get involved with married men. They do have affairs and abortions, and nobody gives a second thought about it."
Dunbar produced one more play for the Royal Court Theatre, the 1986 drama Shirley, prior to her death. Although she had been commissioned to write a play by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), it was never completed and no manuscript has been found.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Guardian (Manchester, England), August 30, 2000, Chris Arnot, "The Portrayal of Life on a Grim West Yorkshire Council Estate," p. 2, David Brindle, "A Talent Shining through the Gloom," p. 3.
New Republic, August 10, 1987, Stanley Kauffmann, review of Rita, Sue, and Bob Too, p. 24.
Variety, January 8, 2001, Matt Wolf, review of Rita,Sue, and Bob Too, p. 45.
Yorkshire Journal, January, 1997, "Writing a Living Memorial."*