Di and Viv and Rose
by Amelia Bullmore
20 – 29 April 2023
A warm and funny play about female friendship. Aged 18, three women join forces. Life is fun. Living is intense. Together they feel unassailable. Crackling with wisdom and wit, Amelia Bullmore’s play Di and Viv and Rose is a humorous and thoughtful exploration of friendship’s impact on life and life’s impact on friendship.
Photos: Gail Bishop
I last saw this play, written by Amelia Bullmore in 2018 and said then that “I was very pleased to make its acquaintance and, should it come my reviewing way again, I doubt I shall see it better performed”. I was right about the first thought, but wrong about the second. Helen Dunford’s Di and Viv and Rose was faultlessly and very thoughtfully delivered to the stage, keeping the audience totally enthralled as the story of these three diverse women evolved from their days at university into older age.
Excellent direction is one thing but three actors to fulfil the roles is also paramount. The casting here was perfect. Natalie Jones brought cautious lesbian Di to life, Laura Mackie captured Viv’s determination to get a first-class degree and succeed in her life and Heather Bokota welded the friendship together with her love, warmth, kindness and sexually free-giving ways.
Initially it appears to be an unlikely trio, but Di and Rose are good friends and Di gets on well with Viv, so a student house is rented to share for all three.
Natalie Jones captured all the hesitation of trying to embark on a lesbian relationship which might have been made easier by the known ‘lesbian table’ in the dining hall, but which had its own conflicts. Suffering the trauma of a rape by an intruder to the house, Di it is who shows her strength as she slowly climbs out of its horrendous effects and is able to offer words of wisdom to the other two when they have problems of their own.
For Viv it seems she has a straight path and that is upwards. Laura Mackie brought Viv determination, almost whatever the cost, and transformed almost seamlessly from the hard-working student into the successful career girl with her own expensive and elegant flat in New York.
Rose is really the glue of the trio with Heather Bokota exuding believability as the girl who gives her sexual favour to any boy who asks and even discovers that if a boy is asked by her if they want to go to bed, they always say yes! Rose is the cook in the house, but not quite on top of her other responsibilities giving rise to the comic scene when she has neglected to do her laundrette duties, leaving Di and Viv with only the clothes they had on. Di needed clean clothes after a sweaty run and, finding that the girl she fancied was currently in the laundrette, need to go there, wearing the only thing she had – the totally inappropriate dress her mother had bought her to initially arrive at the university.
Alongside an engrossing and emotional story for the cast to tell, there is the demand of constant set changes as the action starts in October 1983 and the curtain comes down in August 2010. Although the mainstay of the tale is delivered from their shared house, this too evolves over their time there and there is a great deal of ‘business’ with which to contend – meals, speeches, cassettes to play, a safe tented place in the living room, constructed to help Di after her rape and where all three of them were able to sleep either side of her, to give her comfort. Scenes include a railway station café, that elegant New York flat and a hill where Di and Viv almost end their friendship.
Front of tabs scenes transform into the university corridor and the place for various telephone calls – the most important being Di calling Viv in NYNY to tell her that Rose had had twins - both Japanese - which put an end to the speculation of which of maybe eight boys, the father of Rose’s baby, or babies as it turned out, might be.
To accommodate the necessary fluidity of the scenes, Robin Clark had designed a simple but very effective set which transformed not only successfully, but speedily too, into whichever scene was required. To keep the audience aware of the time scale the relevant year was projected onto the set and easily read. Music – an integral part of the play, changed according to the years too, with some memorable numbers coming up from the past. Some were calm and serious but the liveliest piece gave rise to the hectic and very well-choreographed dance number when all three girls truly let their hair down. A moment captured on video, replayed and integrated into the curtain call.
Accolades are due too, to Wardrobe Mistress Sue Brandon, to Vernon Culver who had no end of important sound cues and to Keith Orton who gathered the props.
Congratulations must once again go to Helen Dunford for her meticulous direction and to her skilled and hard-working cast. Anyone who missed the show, certainly missed out and I can but wonder what I might write should I be lucky enough to see the play, performed by another group, in the future. Who knows?