Di and Viv and Rose
Highbury Theatre’s studio reopens with a winning production of ‘Di and Viv and Rose’. Directed by Ian Appleby, it is a story of female friendship and solidarity brought vividly to life by a talented trio of actors.
Spanning almost 30 years, Amelia Bullmore’s comedy charts the highs, lows, successes and sorrows of three unlikely friends between 1983 and 2010. Malcolm Robertshaw’s simple set design allows for the action to shift seamlessly from the house the friends share at university to a variety of other locations, including a train station platform.
A series of posters help to orientate us through the decades, from The Breakfast Club to Pulp Fiction, via Goodfellas and Top Gun. Memorable lines scrawled in graffiti on the walls – ‘mud-stained warrior’, ‘smash and grab’, ‘corsets = oppression’ work well to highlight the very different personalities at play and continue to amuse and remind us of the past when events take darker, more serious turns as the years roll by.
The first act is packed with laughs as we get to know Di, Viv and Rose in their student days. A house sharing arrangement at university shows signs of tension from the offset but what is never in doubt is the connection between the women, despite their differences.
Rose is a free-love embracing whirlwind, played with infectious charm by Dominika Nala. An art history student, she is more interested in aesthetics and beauty than practical matters but what shines through in her performance is an innocent zest for life and an earnest desire to connect with her housemates. An early conversation in which she asks Viv and Di how they want to live together (“I mean we could come and go and lead separate lives. Or we could really live together. What do you think?”) sets the tone for her character: maternal, warm and fun-loving.
Viv’s intensity is a complete contrast to Rose’s carefree nature and in Julie Cunningham’s convincing performance there is real angst. A feminist sociology student, Viv is more interested in the history of the corset than throwing herself into the sexual opportunities presented by university life. Underneath the spikiness and moral posturing (she is appalled about Rose sleeping with eight boys in three weeks) Cunningham captures the insecurity of a woman afraid of intimacy who regards kindness as a tactic to ensnare.
Completing the group is Di, a sporty, gay business studies student whose reluctance to approach her crush for fear of incurring the 'wrath of Kath' at the university ‘lesbian table’ is endearing. Amarpreet Manwaha brings enormous energy to the role, providing many of the laughs in the first act as she struggles to navigate the gulf between family and student life. A speech in the second half (no spoilers here) is deeply affecting – a testament to the enduring power of friendship.
Di and Viv and Rose feel like friends of ours by the end of the night, such is the strength of the connection with the audience. It’s an emotional rollercoaster of a play but one which is well worth the ride. Highly recommended.
Di and Viv and Rose is playing at Highbury Theatre from 22nd to 27th May 2023.