White Bear Theatre, London – until 16 February 2019
Amelia Bullmore’s Di & Viv & Rose is a play I’ve loved since its 2011 debut in the downstairs space at the Hampstead Theatre, from whence it graduated to the main house and from there into the West End. At each spot, it has been blessed with some superb actors – Nicola Walker, Claudie Blakley and Tamzin Outhwaite, Gina McKee and Anna Maxwell Martin, Samantha Spiro and Jenna Russell – so I was intrigued to see how it would fare in this Off-West End production by Flying Rabbit.
And I have to say it stood up really rather well, a mark of the strength of its writing. The play follows the developing friendship between three women thrown together as undergraduates who move to a houseshare in which a real kinship is formed, connections which are tested by the trials and tribulations not only of student life, but through into the ‘real’ world as well. Did the Spice Girls really get it right? Does friendship never end…?
As the play stretches over a good couple of decades, its interesting to see Robyn Hoedemaker’s production cast at the younger end of the scale. Since the lengthy first act is all set in their university days, it is a canny decision and one which pays dividends in Bernadett Ostorhazi, Jo Shirley and Julia Papp’s performances. Ostorhazi’s sporty lesbian Di is full of warmth, Shirley’s tightly-wound Viv is a striking presence and Papp’s gregarious Rose is a powerhouse of energy.
They ride the waves of Bullmore’s wryly observed student dialogue well, when every new conversation seems full of world-changing potential. And as the play shifts into more serious terrain, Hoedemaker’s direction makes a bold move into something more expressionist. The 80s jukebox soundtrack is jettisoned for a brooding score and purposeful movement is employed to underscore real intent as complex issues are dealt with sensitively.
The second act, with its timejumps into the future, lacks a little something of the same richness. Shorter scenes give us less time to delve into the older characters and the trio of actors have their range stretched as does Emma Boomer’s set design (whose main strengths lie in evoking student shabby chic). That said, there’s no lack of emotion here at all, in a smart production of a play that has endured well.