Those that have gone to university will know that special friendships can indeed be formed and further, seek longevity. Obviously there are exceptions but sharing such an intense experience as (for most individuals) leaving home for the first time and moving to a new city in search of new adventures can strike up the strongest bond amongst the most unlikely of strangers.
Originally a Hampstead Theatre production, Amelia Bullmore’s Di and Viv and Rose takes its audience back to 1983 when university was perhaps not as much of a conventional choice as it is now (or at least before tuition fees sky-rocketed). The story is one many can empathise with: three somewhat different teenagers (played by a much older but utterly convincing cast) strike up a friendship early on in their educational journey (a less academic than emotional one), move in together and struggle through and over the many obstacles they face as, in this case, the story stretches over the next 25 years.
Jenna Russell’s Rose is the primary focal point of Anna Mackmin’s production. She treads a contrasting and interesting line between endearingly innocent girl-next-door and wildly active nymphomaniac but without ever losing the love of those around her. Samantha Spiro’s anti-establishmentarian and course-focused Viv however finds difficulty in understanding her friend and especially her seemingly carefree ways. Tamzin Outhwaite’s Di is the easy-going mediator between the two who is simultaneously exploring her newly open homosexuality. Mackmin treats us to a very strong first half that solely looks at the girls’ time at university. Simon Baker casts the trio’s early learning of one another against the thudding melancholy of The Cure and euphoric glee of New Order, before their relationship progresses and cements itself with Aerosmith’s ‘Walk this Way’ on a disastrous night out that will leave you breathless.
The later scenes find Di, Viv and Rose with different lives and new priorities. Paul Wills’s set transforms from garish yet embracing home to the cold openness of reality. It represents not only the decay of young adult comforts but a general discomfort for dreams that are dashed post university.
The cast are phenomenal. Russell (brilliant in Urinetown) is effortlessly sweet even when describing the size of her boyfriend’s penis and airing out her vagina. As someone who has only seen Outhwaite in EastEnders I was capsized by the sheer versatility she shows here, particularly given the blows her character is dealt. Both her and Spiro’s dominance in the second half is angry and uncomfortable and more so due to the scale of their unhappiness but here lies the strength in Di and Viv and Rose; the hard-hitting and utter truth of life and friendship.
This surpassed all expectations I had. There’s so much to love and appreciate and learn from but most importantly, to relate to. Hopefully it’ll return to London again in the future.
Di and Viv and Rose is playing at the Vaudeville Theatre until 23 May. For more information and tickets, see the Vaudeville Theatre website. Photo by Johan Persson.