Di and Viv and Rose – Old Joint Stock Theatre, Birmingham

Writer: Amelia Bullmore

Director: Ellie Darvill

Reviewer: Selwyn Knight

Di, Viv and Rose. Three very different girls meeting in halls of residence. They become friends and share a house for two years, sharing in the ups and downs of student life – and there are plenty of both. Can they ‘meet with Triumph and Disaster/And treat those two impostors just the same’? And what about after university when they separate and follow their individual destinies? Can friendships forged as teens survive separation and the very different outcomes each experiences? This is the premise of Amelia Bullmore’s play, Di and Viv and Rose.

Di (Linda Kemm) is a no-nonsense sporty and somewhat stereotyped lesbian – we see her first in dungarees – studying business; Viv (Dawn Butler) a driven sociology student for whom work and prestige are all; Rose (Catherine James) is happy-go-lucky, sleeping with any boy who catches her eye – one can’t help feeling something is missing for her: will she find it before her frantic lifestyle finds her out?

Bullmore’s writing is snappy, almost filmic, with several short scenes being glimpses of telling moments in the girls’ lives. The dialogue and action are naturalistic and believable and we share their highs and lows. But this production is a rather ponderous affair. A detailed set and numerous costume changes mean that transitions between scenes are too long while the audience waits in the dark listening to pop standards from the 1980s; this is especially noticeable in the initial few disjointed scenes as the girls first meet and pick out a path to friendship. The extended transitions also have the effect of disturbing the momentum. The first act, with the girls at university, it is rather too long, unbalancing the two story arcs – at, and after, university.

The three actors are, however, uniformly excellent in their interpretations of the three very different girls and the impacts of the changes that occur on their journeys. In a three-hander like this, there is no room for passengers and all three pull their weight impressively – although not all look entirely convincing as teens. Kemm is satisfyingly straightforward and forthright, though when a crisis hits Di, her portrayal of her (DI’s) bafflement and subsequent actions are delicate and moving – as is her reaction to the second crisis to hit the threesome. Butler’s Viv – also forthright in her feminist views and desire to get ahead – is believably grounded. James’ Rose is complex and layered – we do get a sense that there is more to her than the shallow persona she seems to present.

We do absolutely buy in to their friendship and empathise with the crises that Bullman imposes on them: indeed, when one such crisis occurred offstage in the second act, there were gasps from the audience as the penny dropped as to what had happened.

Di and Viv and Rose is a study of friendship that endures and that is tested almost to breaking point. It leaves you contemplating your own friendships, a circle into which these girls somehow squeeze themselves. But it is by no means a perfect production – it’s maybe half an hour too long at present and could benefit from some judicious tightening of transitions especially, maybe making more use of lighting to isolate elements – a device already used well during phone calls, for example. Nevertheless, the quality of the performances lifts it above the average and make it a worthwhile night out.

Runs until 30 June 2017 | Image: Contributed

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Affecting but overlong

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The Central team is under the editorship of Selwyn Knight. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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