Monday, February 16, 2015

DI AND VIV AND ROSE (and us) at the Vaudeville Theatre

Last Wednesday it was time to step back in time thanks to Amelia Bullmore's comedy of three female friends negotiating life in DI AND VIV AND ROSE at the Vaudeville Theatre.
The play has transferred from Hampstead Theatre to the Vaudeville in the West End for a limited season - sadly without a title change which I think is unnecessarily cumbersome.  What has happened is the cast has had a two-thirds change since Hampstead: out goes Anna Maxwell Martin and Gina McKee, in comes Samantha Spiro and Jenna Russell.

If you know the individual actresses, you can imagine how this will change the dynamic of the play as Spiro and Russell, with their musical experience, play it more 'out front', more West End - and that is certainly not a bad thing in my book.

As good as the actresses are, I must admit that at no time did I find Bullmore's characters at all believable as they seemed to be types rather than fully-rounded characters, sporty lesbian, sex-mad ditz, driven fashion-writer career woman.

The set-up is age-old: three women from different backgrounds come together - here in a shared student flat - and we watch as they slowly evolve into genuine friends despite everything that life - and themselves - can do to them.

We first meet the threesome taking turns on their halls of residence phone, slowly getting to know each other and eventually sharing a flat together.  Over the course of the first act we get to know them too: Tamzin Outhwaite is Di, sporty and taking business studies who can finally admit to the world she is a lesbian after hiding it at home, Jenna Russell as Rose who is studying art history and whose good nature includes sleeping with any man she fancies, and Samantha Spiro is Viv who is studying sociology with a particular interest in how fashion has literally shaped women's lives.

Twice during the play Bullmore delivers a twist to the general sitcom feel, confronting her characters - and the audience - with the casual shocks that life can spring.  The first comes so out of the blue that it takes you totally unawares and the play violently changes gear for a while as the women bond together, only for the former tempo of fairly long scenes to creep back again by the interval.

The interval arrives at the end of their University years and they handle this last scene very well as the realization dawns that, although they are now firm friends, they will never share the experience of living together again. The 80s give way to the 90s and Viv is working for a fashion columnist in New York, Di is living with a partner and Rose is a single mother of two children.

I enjoyed these scenes more - the actresses seemed more comfortable playing ages closer to their own - although I also felt that Bullmore didn't really flesh out the characters that are left offstage, partners are mentioned but you never get a real sense of them.  Midway through the second act, Bullmore pulls the rug out from under the audience again with the death of one of the characters and the tempo changes again to one of loss and recrimination.

I was vaguely reminded of MY NIGHT WITH REG in these final scenes as it too covers the impact of a friend's death on those left behind, who has ownership of what memory, etc. but Kevin Elyot's play works on a more profound level than this one.

What made the play stand out were the performances of the fine actresses, in particular Samantha Spiro as the waspish, and later, soused Viv.  What is also good is seeing a new play that affords three equally prominent roles for actresses, I am sure the play will have a future life as it would be very easy to tour.

Briskly directed by Anna Mackmin, ultimately what's not to love about a production that gives you blasts of Kirsty MacColl *and* Madonna?

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