saints and sinners of the stage and screen
saints and sinners of the stage and screen
Di and Viv and Rose
23rd February 2015
Photography © Johan Persson
Di and Viv and Rose goes on and on and on. And on. Absolutely nothing happens. Then it does. Then somehow, nothing happens again. It's inevitable, it's slow - it's insipid. The actresses - Tamzin Outwaithe in particular - are really very good. The writing by Amelia Bullmore really is not, and it's usually impossible (as is in this case) for a production to recover from a terrible script. It just prevents everything else from shining. Were all the four-star reviews some collective delusion on the part of Fleet Street?
Back in the 80s, when ditzy blonde Rose (Jenna Russell) heads off to university, she meets land girl Viv (Samantha Spiro) and athletic Di (Outhwaite) - both a description and a euphemism, the sporty lass literally sits on "the lesbian table". Despite their complete lack of anything in common, they end up becoming the best of friends and sharing a house together. So, it's any girl's tale of uni. Now, I don't know about you, but whilst university was okay at the time, I really don't think you would give a damn about a day-by-day, blow-by-blow of what it was I did there. Student life? Not that exciting at the time, let alone in retrospect. You could hack away most of the first half - maybe even cut all of the second - and you just wouldn't lose anything. I know the playwright wanted to establish the unlikely rapport between the three leads, but this could be far more powerful and interesting as, say, a 60 minute piece. You get the impression that Bullmore is simply pandering to the sort of audience goer who believes the price of the ticket should dictate the number of minutes sat down - those people are frankly idiots. If I were to sum up the first half in a word, it would be "padding".
Incidentally, in terms of how sophisticated this gets, the writing includes such classics as "I like Conrad's thing a lot". Oh yes, "thing" is that thing. Smashing. It's really quite odd, given Bullmore's background of being in some of the most groundbreaking and popular comedy shows of all time, such as Jam and I'm Alan Partridge.
I counted a grand total of seven men in the dress circle, two of whom were so captivated by the play that they whipped out their phones and started looking at porn in the interval. (Not even joking.) But as much as this is an ordeal for males, it doesn't make for a fun girly night out either. Oh, there's the odd recognisable moment where you catch a familiar scenario or sentiment, but it's neither truly nostalgic nor exciting. You weren't one of those women. You don't want to be want one of those women. There's really no message to this story other than to spell out that you make friends, life happens and well, sometimes you don't keep in touch. Not enough to warrant taking two and a half hours of my life away from me. I already knew that sometimes you don't end up being "BFFs forever".
There are some nice, if predictable, touches to Anna Mackmin's direction - nothing groundbreaking, but nice. The girls building a fort is a believable coping mechanism and the long silences and meaningful looks as Rose and Viv rally around Di are probably the closest this production comes to making you connect with the women. They're largely stereotypes - the sporty lesbian, the promiscuous one who shock, horror gets knocked up, the serious one who doesn't cope that well post-academia - there's a distinct lack of imagination in creating these characters. (The second saddest moment for me was when the wine ran out, and I don't even like wine that much.)
The dynamic between the leading ladies is genuine and warm - even if this point is laboured with long scenes involving drunken antics - but if I were to criticise any of their performances, Russell does seem to struggle with her projection in places. It feels like rather than being loud, she's shouting, desperately trying to be heard. This does resolve itself, but in a play this uninspiring, even tiny usually forgettable niggles this like do irritate.
Di and Vi and Rose spans roughly three decades, which is difficult for the actresses given this does not fit with their natural playing ages. You never believe they're fresh-faced 18 year-olds - they're all beautiful, with Spiro especially chic - but university students? You're having a laugh. The year is beamed onto the back wall whenever we move forward through time, and there's an attempt to show the change in era with different clothes and music (got to love a bit of Madonna). The music actually, does seem very well-chosen with Simon Baker's sound one of the more successful aspects of the production.
Despite the clear use of dates, time often stands still. When Rose whines "I don't want to go", you wonder what timey-wimey trickery is in place and whether the person next to you has a sonic screwdriver you can borrow to create a way out for yourself.
My main problem with Di and Viv and Rose is that I just don't understand for whom it's been written. Unless it's some kind of weird punishment play - rather than stick your other half in the doghouse, book them a ticket for this. They'll never misbehave again. I so want to applaud a piece written and directed by women, with strong female actresses in it - but truthfully, apart from three or four laughs, I did not derive any pleasure from watching this. I'd love to see Outwaithe in something good, she comes across as very talented and versatile - but I can't recommend this show to anyone I don't hate. I just can't.
Di and Viv and Rose opened on 22nd January at the Vaudeville Theatre and is currently booking until 14th March 2015.
Nearest tube station: Charing Cross (Bakerloo, Northern)