Andrea Dunbar

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Andrea Dunbar
Born 22 May 1961
Bradford, West Riding of Yorkshire, England
Died 20 December 1990(1990-12-20) (aged 29)
Bradford, West Yorkshire, England
Occupation Playwright
Literary movement Realism

Andrea Dunbar (22 May 1961 - 20 December 1990) was a British playwright best known for The Arbor and 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. The Mail on Sunday described Dunbar as "a genius straight from the slums".[1][dead link]

Early life[edit]

Dunbar grew up on Brafferton Arbor on the Buttershaw council estate in Bradford[2] with seven brothers and sisters. Both her parents had worked in the textile industry.[3] Dunbar attended Buttershaw Comprehensive School.


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.[4] It was premiered in 1980 at London's Royal Court Theatre, directed by Max Stafford-Clark. Alongside an entry by Lucy Anderson Jones, It jointly won the Young Writers' Festival, and was later extended and performed in New York.[5] The play described the experiences of a pregnant teenager with an abusive drunken father. On 26 March 1980, she was featured in the BBC's Arena arts' documentary series.

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.[6]

The film version of Rita, Sue and Bob Too (1987) was adapted for the cinema by Dunbar and directed 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.

Personal life[edit]

Andrea Dunbar first became pregnant at age 15; the baby was stillborn at 6 months.[7] She later had three children by three different fathers. The first, Lorraine, was born in 1979 to an Asian father. A year later, in 1980, Lisa was born, again while Andrea was still a teenager.[8]

As a single mother, Dunbar spent 18 months in a Women's Aid refuge and became an increasingly heavy drinker. In 1990 she died of a brain haemorrhage at the age of 29 after becoming ill in the Beacon pub on Reevy Road. In 2007 her eldest daughter Lorraine, a heroin addict at the time, was convicted of manslaughter for causing the death of her child by gross neglect after the child ingested a lethal dose of methadone.[9][10][11]


In 2000, Dunbar's life and her surroundings were revisited in the play A State Affair by Robin Soans.[12]

A film about her life, The Arbor, directed by Clio Barnard, was released in 2010. The film uses actors lip-synching to interviews with Dunbar and her family, and concentrates on the strained relationship between Dunbar and her daughter Lorraine.[2] The film was nominated for a BAFTA award for Outstanding Debut by a British Director, and won the Sutherland Trophy, at the 2010 London Film Festival Awards. It also won the Sheffield Innovation Award at the 2010 Sheffield Doc/Fest.[13]

A novel inspired by Dunbar's life and work, Black Teeth and a Brilliant Smile, by Adelle Stripe, was published by Wrecking Ball Press in 2017. [14] [15] [16]


  1. ^
  2. ^ a b Clayton, Emma (4 September 2009). "Friends to star in Dunbar's years on Bradford's Buttershaw Estate". The Bradford Telegraph & Argus. Retrieved 18 May 2011. 
  3. ^ Madeleine Bunting "Social deprivation in Britain: how a writer's life turned to tragedy", The Guardian, 18 October 2010
  4. ^ Katherine Anne Limmer, "Investigating the Authority of the Literary Text in Critical Debate". Archived October 31, 2006, at the Wayback Machine.
  5. ^ review by Frank Rich in the New York Times, 1983
  6. ^ Susan Carlson, Process and Product: Contemporary British Theatre and its Communities of Women, Theatre Research International (1988), 13 : pp 249-263.
  7. ^ Lyn Gardner, "Born to Write and Die", The Guardian, July 4, 1998.
  8. ^ Liam Allen, "The Arbor: In the footsteps of Rita, Sue and Bob", BBC News, 22 October 2010.
  9. ^ Tribeca ‘10 | Clio Barnard’s “The Arbor” Defies Categorization, Indiewire, 10 April 2010.
  10. ^ Paul Sims, Drug addict daughter of famous playwright jailed after killing son with methadone, The Daily Mail, 23 November 2007.
  11. ^ Martin Wainwright, Playwright's darkest visions return to consume her family, The Guardian, 24 November 2007.
  12. ^ Rita, Sue and Bob Too by Andrea Dunbar/A State Affair by Robin Soans, Methuen Books, 2000, ISBN 0-413-75700-5
  13. ^ "Sheffield Doc/Fest". Wikipedia. 2017-02-12. 
  14. ^ "BLACK TEETH and a BRILLIANT SMILE : PRE-ORDER |". Retrieved 2017-06-23. 
  15. ^ " - Connecting People Through News". Retrieved 2017-06-23. 
  16. ^ "Rita, Sue and Bob Too: A snapshot of 1980s Britain". BBC News. 2017-05-29. Retrieved 2017-06-23. 

External links[edit]