Theatre review: Di and Viv and Rose

Melissa York
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Tamzin Outhwaite (R) in Di and Viv and Rose
Vaudeville Theatre | ★★★☆☆
The programme for the Vaudeville Theatre’s production of Di and Viv and Rose features two pages of anecdotes from a wide range of women, from doctors to preachers, MPs to celebrities, about how they met their best friends. Infusing them all is a sense of effortlessness, of falling into friendships that have stood the test of time, of never having to “catch up” after months apart because the laughter is ever present. These testimonies jar with Amelia Bullmore’s play, which makes long-standing female friendship look like rather hard work.
Di, Viv and Rose meet naturally enough at university, although they have little in common. Tamzin Outhwaite reprises the role of Di – a sporty, no-nonsense lesbian – for the third time, having created the role at Hampstead Theatre. She meets Rose, a bubbly, promiscuous history of art student played with great gusto by Jenna Russell, who recruits Viv, a bookish sort who “dresses like it’s the war”, to join their household. In an effort to depict “characterful” women, Bullmore segues into unfortunate stereotyping: the fusty feminist, the butch lesbian and the airhead flirt. Nevertheless, the trio do a decent job of fleshing them out; their portrayal of youthful exuberance, first love and cider-drinking from cereal bowls is no less playful played by women in their 40s than actresses in their teens. When the time comes for them to leave university – and each other – the separation is authentically painful.
But real life kicks in after the interval and the script isn’t the only thing that goes downhill. The next 25 years lollop by in indiscriminate chunks of time that resemble a series of screaming matches about how “you weren’t HERE when I NEEDED you”. The central friendship at the core of this piece is ultimately subsumed by a litany of issues that are too complicated for the second half to handle on its own. In the end, heartfelt performances can’t save this comedy from taking itself far too seriously.

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