Andrea Dunbar

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
  (Redirected from The Arbor)
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Andrea Dunbar
Andrea Dunbar playwright.jpg
Born22 May 1961
Bradford, West Riding of Yorkshire, England
Died20 December 1990(1990-12-20) (aged 29)
Bradford, West Yorkshire, England
Literary movementRealism

Andrea Dunbar (22 May 1961 – 20 December 1990) was an English playwright. She wrote The Arbor (1980) and Rita, Sue and Bob Too (1982), an autobiographical drama about the sexual adventures of teenage girls living in a run-down part of Bradford, West Yorkshire. She wrote most of the adaptation for the film Rita, Sue and Bob Too (1987). The Mail on Sunday described Dunbar as "a genius straight from the slums".[1][2]

Early life[edit]

Dunbar was raised on Brafferton Arbor on the Buttershaw council estate in Bradford[3] with seven brothers and sisters. Both her parents had worked in the textile industry.[4] Dunbar attended Buttershaw Comprehensive School.


Dunbar began her first play The Arbor in 1977 at the age of 15,[5] writing it as a classroom assignment for CSE English. It is the story of "a Bradford schoolgirl who falls pregnant to her Pakistani boyfriend on a racist estate," and has an abusive drunken father.[5][6][7] Encouraged by her teacher, she was helped to develop the play to performance standard.[8] It received its première in 1980 at London's Royal Court Theatre, directed by Max Stafford-Clark.[5] At age 18, Dunbar was the youngest playwright to have her work performed there.[9] Alongside a play entered by Lucy Anderson Jones, The Arbor jointly won at the Young Writers' Festival, and was later augmented and performed in New York City.[10] On 26 March 1980, she was featured in the BBC's Arena arts documentary series.

Dunbar was quickly commissioned to write a follow-up play, Rita, Sue and Bob Too, first performed in 1982. This explores similar themes to The Arbor through the lives of two teenage girls who are having affairs with the same married man. Dunbar's third play, Shirley (1986), places greater emphasis on a central character.[11] It depicts a girl's "tumultuous relationship" with her mother. As she explained, she meant to write "about Shirley and John but, you know, I wrote the mother in and she bloody took over the whole play."[12]

The film version of Rita, Sue and Bob Too (1987) was adapted for the cinema by Dunbar, directed by Alan Clarke and filmed on the Buttershaw estate. Dunbar disowned the film when more writers were brought in to give it a happier ending.[5] However, it created considerable controversy on the estate because of its negative portrayal of the area.[5] Dunbar was threatened by several residents, but nevertheless continued to live there.[5]

Personal life[edit]

Dunbar first became pregnant at age 15; the baby was stillborn at 6 months.[13] She later had three children by three different fathers. The first, Lorraine, was born in 1979. A year later, in 1980, Lisa was born, again while Dunbar was still a teenager.[14]

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, a pub in Reevy Road and a location seen in the opening shot of Rita, Sue and Bob Too.

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.[15][16]


In 2000, Dunbar's life and her surroundings were revisited in the play A State Affair by Robin Soans.[17]

A film about her life, The Arbor, directed by Clio Barnard, was released in 2010.[5] 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.[5][3] 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.

A novel inspired by Dunbar's life and work, Black Teeth and a Brilliant Smile by Adelle Stripe, was published by Wrecking Ball Press,[18][19] shortlisted for the Gordon Burn Prize[20] and gained the Society of Authors' K Blundell Trust Award for Fiction.[21] A second edition came from Little, Brown.[22] In 2019 a stage adaptation by Freedom Studios and screenwriter Lisa Holdsworth was announced in The Guardian. Dramatisation of Stripe's "strikingly atmospheric novel" will focus on women's relationships, with a cast of five sharing the roles. It shows a teenage Dunbar rising to national note with her autobiographical works The Arbor and Rita, Sue and Bob Too, and the challenges of life on the Buttershaw estate in Bradford.[23]


  1. ^ "Andrea Dunbar". Retrieved 13 November 2017. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  2. ^ Youngs, Ian (28 May 2019). "The teenage Bradford 'genius' who told it like it was". BBC News. Retrieved 28 May 2019.
  3. ^ 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.
  4. ^ Bunting, Madeleine (18 October 2010). "Social deprivation in Britain: how a writer's life turned to tragedy". The Guardian. Retrieved 28 May 2019.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h Hickling, Alfred (12 April 2010). "Back to Bradford: Andrea Dunbar remembered on film". The Guardian. Retrieved 13 November 2018.
  6. ^ Gardner, Lyn (6 June 2001). "Theatre review: The Arbor". The Guardian. Retrieved 14 November 2018.
  7. ^ Gilbey, Ryan (21 October 2010). "The Arbor (15)". New Statesman. Retrieved 14 November 2018.
  8. ^ Katherine Anne Limmer, "Investigating the Authority of the Literary Text in Critical Debate". Archived 31 October 2006 at the Wayback Machine
  9. ^ "Dying daughter calls for memorial to mum". BBC News. 16 October 2017. Retrieved 14 November 2018.
  10. ^ Rich, Frank (21 September 1983). "Theater: 'The Arbor,' From Britain". The New York Times. Retrieved 14 November 2018.
  11. ^ Susan Carlson, Process and Product: Contemporary British Theatre and its Communities of Women, Theatre Research International (1988), 13: pp 249–263.
  12. ^ Virginia Blain, Patricia Clements and Isobel Grundy: The Feminist Companion to Literature in English. Women Writers from the Middle Ages to the Present Day (London: Batsford, 1990), p. 315.
  13. ^ "Lyn Gardner, Born to Write and Die". The Guardian, 4 July 1998.
  14. ^ "Liam Allen, The Arbor: In the footsteps of Rita, Sue and Bob". BBC News, 22 October 2010.
  15. ^ Tribeca '10 |Clio Barnard's "The Arbor" Defies Categorization, Indiewire, 10 April 2010.
  16. ^ Martin Wainwright, "Playwright's darkest visions return to consume her family". The Guardian, 24 November 2007.
  17. ^ Rita, Sue and Bob Too by Andrea Dunbar/A State Affair by Robin Soans, Methuen Books, 2000, ISBN 0-413-75700-5
  18. ^ " – Connecting People Through News". Retrieved 23 June 2017.
  19. ^ "Rita, Sue and Bob Too: A snapshot of 1980s Britain". BBC News. 29 May 2017. Retrieved 23 June 2017.
  20. ^ "Denise Mina makes Gordon Burn Prize shortlist | The Bookseller". Retrieved 21 July 2017.
  21. ^ "News | The Society of Authors". Retrieved 23 June 2017.
  22. ^ "ANDREA DUNBAR-INSPIRED NOVEL TO FLEET". Retrieved 10 September 2017.
  23. ^ Wiegand, Chris (10 December 2018). "Andrea Dunbar's life story to be staged in Bradford pub". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 7 January 2019.

External links[edit]