TAJ Atwal returns to York from Tuesday to play Rita in Rita, Sue And Bob Too at the Theatre Royal in the city where she grew up and took her early acting steps as a York College performing arts student.

She is on tour this autumn in the Out Of Joint, Octagon Theatre, Bolton and Royal Court Theatre production of Andrea Dunbar's semi-autobiographical play, premiered at the Royal Court in 1982 when the Bradford writer was only 19 and now revived by Out Of Joint artistic director Kate Wasserberg.

Taj, who appeared in Kay Mellor's In The Club on BBC1, has already played Harrogate Theatre this season and is back on home soil again after starring as another Rita, the "mature" student in Willy Russell's Educating Rita, at Hull Truck Theatre in summer 2016.

"That Rita was older, more self-assured, with more of a mouth on her; this one is completely different; she's easily manipulated," says Taj. Indeed so.

York Press:

Gemma Dobson, left, and Taj Atwal in Andrea Dunbar's Rita, Sue And Bob Too. Picture: Richard Davenport

Teenage best friends Rita and Sue get a lift home from married Bob after the babysitting his children. When he takes the scenic route and offers them a bit of fun, the three start a fling that each of them think they control in Dunbar's portrait of two council-estate girls caught between brutal childhood and an unpromising future, both hungry for adult adventure.

Taj had played a 15-year-old schoolgirl, Meenah, in her West End debut in East Is East in 2014 and 2015 at the Trafalgar Studios and now, at 29, she is doing so again, this time as Rita. "How lucky I am. It's quite daunting as I want to do the play justice and Rita is so different from me," she says. "Going back to playing a teenager is a challenge, working on her in five weeks of rehearsals."

During that time, the cast visited Andrea Dunbar's home on the Buttershaw estate and drove up to the moors, where Bob would take the girls, all in the cause of adding to their knowledge of the play's roots.

"Rita isn't precocious; if anything she is easily led, growing up in a home without love or attention, and when someone shows her that, she falls for that charm, though Bob poo-poos her dream of being a policewoman and working hard. She's so vulnerable and naive and just wants to get her world right. So whether it's right or wrong to grab at the chance of someone showing her affection, the audience will decide...but I think the girls are blameless. They're 15.

York Press:

Taj Atwal, as Rita, Gemma Dobson, as Sue, and James Atherton, as Bob, in Rita, Sue And Bob Too. Picture: Richard Davenport

"Andrea Dunbar was very vocal about wanting to tell the truth about growing up on a Bradford estate and we want to tell it as it is as there's so much going on in this play."

Taj is not only returning to York but to the Theatre Royal stage. "When I was at York College, I did my graduate production there: Ibsen's Peer Gynt, in which I played Anitra, and it was that production that made me decide that acting was something I really wanted to do, so it will be lovely to be back on that stage," she says.

Born in Norwich, Taj had moved to York when she was seven or eight. "My mum got an offer to move to York when the Rowntree plant was closed in Norwich, and I did theatre at Easingwold School when the drama department there had a really good reputation," she recalls. "We were living in Haxby at the time and I'd get the bus out to Easingwold.

"From there I went on to study at York College from 2004 to 2007 – before the big multi-million pound building was erected – and had a fantastic time doing the diploma in performing arts and the national award in dance."

A decade later, York is calling her home to the Theatre Royal stage that shaped her career.

Out Of Joint, Octagon Theatre, Bolton and the Royal Court Theatre present Rita, Sue And Bob Too on tour at York Theatre Royal from November 14 to 18. Box office: 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk