DramaNorth East & YorkshireReview

Di and Viv and Rose – Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough

Writer: Amelia Bullmore

Director: Lotte Wakeham

Designer: Frankie Bradshaw

Lighting: Jason Taylor

Sound: Paul Stear

Reviewer: Ron Simpson

Di and Viv and Rose is what it says – it’s about Di and Viv and Rose. They are the only three characters: Amelia Bullmore cleverly makes us know others without actually seeing them. Rose’s irritatingly generous stepfather or one of her numerous lovers, Di’s lesbian partner – even the fashion guru who makes Viv her protégée in New York – seem on the brink of bursting in on the action, but it remains Di and Viv and Rose.

The three meet in 1983 in their Hall of Residence at a Northern university. In a series of smart little blackout scenes, the audience gets to know them as they get to know each other. Viv identifies Rose as “the irritating one” – and she is, at least at first. Rose, in her turn, finds Viv weird and christens her “Mrs Miniver” because of her 1940s dress style. As for Di, unmoved by Rose’s delighted account of boys everywhere, her matter-of-fact response is, “I’m gay.” 

So, even when they move together to 42 Mossbank Road, they are very different. Rose, unworldly, in a strange way innocent, makes promiscuity a way of life and responds to most situations with misdirected enthusiasm. Viv’s self-obsessed academicism and Di’s cheerful normality could not be more of a contrast, but somehow the three become a unit and Mossbank stands for certain attitudes and approaches.

In the programme, Amelia Bullmore acknowledges the unoriginality of her message: “When the thing you want to say is so obvious – Friendship is a Good Idea – you’d better say it entertainingly.” She certainly does that – and dramatically and subtly. The first half covers less than three years, essentially the Mossbank years, with dramatic, possibly life-changing, events creeping in towards the end. The second half, over more than 20 years, has huge gaps in time and is full –perhaps too full – of surprises, transformations and dramatic confrontations.

Bullmore’s subtle insight is that the bond, forged at university and still, in some ways, the most important relationship in their lives, doesn’t make them similar; they remain indissolubly linked and totally different. Her allusive method of narration, natural dialogue hinting at characters and events known to the three women and gradually picked up by the audience, gives the sense of eavesdropping on their private world.

Margaret Cabourn-Smith’s performance as Rose is remarkable, though not always easy to watch. The first impression is that she (or director Lotte Wakeham) has taken the “irritating” comment too seriously: the arms wave a bit too much, the vowels are a bit too elongated, the apologetic grimaces a bit too mannered. Yet, astonishingly, she becomes not just a sympathetic character, but the beating heart of the play.

Grace Cookey-Gam’s physical transformation – in stance, in manner – as Viv during the play is superbly done and the character’s tendency to lecture the world is not her fault. Polly Lister is delightfully natural as Di, mostly sunny, but convincing in her scenes of tragedy and betrayal. As a trio of performances, they are perfectly balanced.

In Frankie Bradshaw’s economically evocative setting, packing cases and boxes the only permanent feature, Lotte Wakeman directs a funny, moving and real performance – and Noel Coward is again proved right about the power of cheap music – or, at least, the pop music which marks out the years as surely as the periodic date announcements.

Runs until 26 August 2017 | Image: Tony Bartholomew

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The Yorkshire & North East team is under the editorship of Jacob Bush. 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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