ANDREA Dunbar’s third and final piece of writing, before her life was cut short aged just 29, was a play offering “a snapshot of life in the council houses of Bradford”.

Called Shirley, it is set in the 1980s, when Andrea was a young mother living on Buttershaw estate.

Centred around the dysfunctional lives of Shirley, her mum, her best friend and boyfriend, the short play highlights the struggles and relationships of people living in communities that Andrea knew well. As with her second play, Rita, Sue and Bob Too, which became a cult film, Andrea fuses drama with occasional comic touches.

Bradford actress Natalie Gavin, who went to the same Buttershaw school as Andrea, stars in a new staging of Shirley - only the third time it has ever been performed on stage.

The production, at Square Chapel Arts Centre, is the latest in a series of events at the venue celebrating the life of Andrea Dunbar, in the 30th anniversary year of Rita, Sue and Bob Too.

Born in 1961, Andrea was one of eight children and grew up on the Buttershaw estate. Aged 15, she wrote The Arbor, a play based on the street where she lived, for her English CSE. It was while spending in a women’s refuge that the young mother-of-three met a friend with links to the theatre who helped get Andrea’s work out to an audience.

The script for The Arbor was passed on to Max Stafford-Clark, who at the time was artistic director of the Royal Court Theatre. Impressed by Andrea’s writing, he put The Arbor on the stage and its success led to a commission for another play. Andrea wrote Rita, Sue and Bob Too, a bawdy comedy about two teenage girls from a council estate who have a fling with a married man they babysit for.

It was famously adapted for the big screen, with filming taking place in Buttershaw and other areas of the district in 1986. Directed by Alan Clarke, it starred George Costigan as Bob alongside Siobhan Finneran and Michelle Holmes playing Rita and Sue.

Andrea’s third play for the Royal Court was Shirley; her final piece of writing before her sudden death from a brain haemorrhage. Shirley had its debut at The Royal Court Theatre in 1986 and 30 years later was performed in Manchester. This latest staging is at the newly-refurbished Square Chapel Arts Centre, which opened this summer following a £6.6m renovation.

Natalie Gavin, who has appeared in TV dramas such as The Syndicate., Shameless and Prisoners’ Wives, is no stranger to Andrea’s work, having starred in The Arbor, a haunting film inspired by Andrea’s first play. Natalie said: “Shirley has a real place in my heart, and so does Andrea Dunbar. I was so lucky to have been cast in The Arbor, which gave an insight into Andrea’s life and thoughts. I’m also thrilled as patron of Square Chapel and as a fan of Andrea’s work, to be playing the title role in Shirley.”

Playing Shirley’s mother is former Coronation Street actress Karen Henthorn, and the ensemble cast also includes Ciaran Griffiths, from Shameless and This is England 90.

Another Square Chapel patron, George Costigan, said of Andrea’s final play: “Like Buddy Holly and Joe Orton, or any other creative writer cut down by fate, there’s a deep sadness when their last work is their best. That, in my humble opinion, is certainly the case here.”

Director Julia North describes Andrea’s writing as “stark truth unadorned”. She added: “Our staging of it will reflect that.”

* Shirley is performed at Square Chapel Arts Centre on Thursday, November 9. Call (01422) 349422.