Gemma Dobson has starred in Kay Mellor’s In The Club, played Jo in Shelagh Delaney’s A Taste of Honey, and won theatre awards for her role in a revival of Rita, Bob and Sue Too, which comes to The Lowry this month.
Andrea Dunbar wrote the semi-autobiographical play for the Royal Court Theatre in 1982 when she was just 19. It was made into a film with Salford-born George Costigan in 1987.
We caught up with Gemma to discuss the play and keeping her feet on the ground.
How did you get into acting?
I have always loved performing. I studied drama at school and sixth form but wasn’t in a position to go to drama school. Whilst working full time, I started going to Manchester School of Acting where I trained once a week on an evening. This enabled me to continue earning money whilst doing something I loved. Through the school I got an audition for a BBC drama (In the Club series 2), got offered the role and got an agent. It all went from there.
What was it like working with Kay Mellor on In The Club?
Working with Kay Mellor was amazing. I’ve grown up on her programmes so to actually work with her was a dream come true. She gave me my first job and for that I can’t thank her enough. She’s an inspirational woman. Similar to Andrea, she came from humble beginnings and became one of this country’s greatest writers. I also love the fact that she champions Leeds massively.
What’s the best advice you have received since you started acting?
Make sure you enjoy the work while it lasts because acting work comes in waves. You can be working for 6 months and then out of work for a period of time.
What do you love the most about performing on stage?
I love it because it’s live which makes is so exciting and challenging. I also love the immediate response you get from the audience. You can sort of sense their reactions which is brilliant because that’s what it’s all about – engaging an audience.
What keeps your feet on the ground following so much success?
I’m a humble person, very down to earth. I’ll talk to anyone and I love making people laugh. It’s easy for me to keep my feet on the ground because I’m naturally quite a grounded person. If I am ever feeling a bit bewildered by the business of show, I’ll give one of my mates a ring. I always feel better after that.
What attracted you to Rita, Bob and Sue Too?
I saw the film years ago and loved it. When I got asked to audition for the play I was amazed by the differences between it and the film. Suddenly I saw it in a very different light. I then went on to research the writer Andrea Dunbar’s story and was even more drawn to it. She was such an incredible writer. It’s set in Bradford and I’m from Leeds which is next door so it’s written in my language, has characters in it that I recognise and is set in familiar surroundings. Unfortunately Andrea passed away aged 29.
Why would you say the play remains relevant to audiences today?
The story is still relevant because it reminds us that just because these girls are working class does not mean that they deal with abuse any differently to someone of a higher class. History unfortunately repeats itself in that respect. The girls who were abused in places like Rochdale were often dismissed as being able to handle it because of their social status.
What’s been the most challenging aspect of being in this play?
The most challenging thing has been overcoming emotions when discussing the themes of the play. I feel very passionately about being a working class woman and the play deals with themes that speak to people like me. When you think about it, Rita and Sue haven’t got much to look forward to. Sue even says to Bob “There’s never nowt to do round here” – it’s almost that this is the main thing that drives them to him. He becomes their world and I find that really sad.
Summarise in five words why people should come and see Rita, Bob and Sue Too
It’s funny, interesting, heartbreaking, moving and powerful.
Rita, Bob and Sue Too is at The Lowry from 9th-13th April 2019. Buy tickets here.