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A CurtainUp London London Review
Di and Viv and Rose

I am weird. I lie on the beach behind my sunglasses mentally dressing people. — Viv
Di and Viv and Rose
The cast dancing to The Cure (Photo: Johan Persson)
Amelia Bullmore’s latest play after a gap of theatre writing of six years has made the transition, and is the first to do so, from Hampstead Theatre’s Downstairs Space to the main auditorium. I really liked Amelia Bullmore’s Mammals seen at The Bush, but Di and Viv and Rose did not excite or engage me. Maybe it’s the unsympathetic 1980s, that time of rampant Thatcherism where the overly long first half is set, in a student house share in Manchester. I suspect that Di and Viv and Rose works if you love the characters and care about them.

Anna Maxwell Martin is the ditsy, insecure Rose, whose death in the Second Act is from a road accident rather than AIDs. A sexually transmitted disease is what she deserves to die from with her promiscuous lifestyle and conversations about her vagina which she calls her “va”, at one point fanning her fanny (English for vagina), knees apart on the sofa in the communal living room. Rose is an idiote sexuelle as she sleeps with anyone who asks her and finds that men will sleep with her when she asks them to, which she does all the time. She is unable to finish her university degree because she is pregnant with twins and has to go back home to live with her mother and stepfather.

Gina McKee as serious minded Viv, described by Rose as the one who dresses “like the war” in formal frocks is a sociologist studying the oppression of the corset and will land on her feet with a well paid job in New York after writing to an American feminist writer. Tamzin Outhwaite, unrecognisable after her stunning performance as Charity Valentine, plays quirky Di, the sporty Lesbian who hasn’t told her mum about her sexual orientation.

There will be an audience which finds this play adorable and funny but I think it needed more work, more shaping, more editing. The dramatic shifts from a post rape scene of sisterly support to the death of Rose did not affect me because I didn’t believe or empathise with the characters so these life changing events didn’t leave the sting they should have. The dance scene, where the three fling themselves around to The Cure and collapse laughing, obviously pleased most of the audience and there will be those who can relate to this era and the life long bonds you can form with those you lived with in your late teens and early twenties. The rest of us have moved on.

The early scenes to introduce the characters are a series of cut scenes on a trio of black cut out frames, each jokey and a little bit like watching a stand up comedy routine. This story board approach applies to the whole production and seems set piece rather than organic. In the second half, over 27 years we see them coming together for reunions, a funeral and splitting up. The three actors work very hard but Anna Mackmin’s direction doesn’t credibly convey the passing of time and Bullmore’s play didn’t convey for me an understanding of female bonding.

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Di and Viv and Rose
Written by Amelia Bullmore
Directed by Anna Mackmin

Starring: Anna Maxwell Martin, Gina McKee and Tamzin Outhwaite
Designed by Paul Wills
Composer: Paul Englishby
Lighting: Jason Taylor
Sound: Simon Baker
Choreography: Scarlett Mackmin
Running time: Two hours 30 minutes with one interval
Box Office: 020 7722 9301
Booking to 23rd February 2013
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 23rd January 2013 at Hampstead Theatre, Eton Avenue NW3 3EU (Tube: Swiss Cottage)

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