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Andrea Dunbar (22 May 1961 – 20 December 1990) was a British playwright best known for Rita, Sue and Bob Too, an autobiographical drama about the sexual adventures of teenage girls living in a run-down part of Bradford, West Yorkshire. Shelagh Delaney described Dunbar as “a genius straight from the slums”.
Dunbar grew up on Brafferton Arbor on the Buttershaw council estate in Bradford with seven brothers and sisters. Both her parents had worked in the textile industry. Dunbar attended Buttershaw Comprehensive School (now Buttershaw Business and Enterprise College).
Dunbar began her first play The Arbor in 1977 at the age of 15, writing it as a classroom assignment for CSE English. Encouraged by her teacher, she was helped to develop the play to performance standard. It was premiered in 1980 at London’s Royal Court Theatre, directed by Max Stafford-Clark. It won the Young Writers’ Festival, and was later extended and performed in New York. The play described the experiences of a pregnant teenager with an abusive drunken father. On 26 March 1980, she was featured on the BBC’s Arena arts documentary programme.
Dunbar was quickly commissioned to write a follow-up work, creating Rita, Sue and Bob Too, first performed in 1982. The play explored similar themes to The Arbor, in this case depicting the lives of two teenage girls who are both having an affair with the same married man. Dunbar’s third play, Shirley (1986), placed greater emphasis on the central character.
Rita, Sue and Bob Too was adapted for the cinema and was filmed in 1986 by Alan Clarke. The film created considerable controversy on the Buttershaw estate because of its negative portrayal of the area. Dunbar was threatened by several residents, but nevertheless stayed living on the estate.