It is always refreshing to find stories that explore long-term friendships with the level of seriousness and nuance usually reserved for romantic relationships.
Di and Viv and Rose, written in 2013 by British playwright Amelia Bullmore and showing at Adelaide’s RUMPUS theatre this month, is one such example. Introducing us to three young women who meet in their first year of university in 1983, the play follows their successes and sorrows over the years, and the conversations and shared experiences that make the friendship such a formative force for each of them.
At first glance, the characters seem to spring from familiar archetypes: Di is a sports-mad lesbian; Viv is studious, determined, and uninterested in a romantic life; Rose is a free-loving art history student, obsessed with beauty. A strong cast helps to reveal the complexities of each character and the emotional depths that lie beneath their outward personas.
The actors’ talents are particularly evident in the scenes of quiet confrontation, when long-simmering resentments are finally voiced. Some of the most impactful of these conversations include those between Georgia Laity and Isabel Vanhakartano as Viv and Rose, who clash in their opposite approaches to intimacy, and between Laity and Julia Vosnakis as Viv and Di, struggling to communicate in the wake of trauma and estrangement.
Equally compelling are the moments of everyday domestic joy: hanging out on the couch and brainstorming ways for Di to win her dream girl, or dancing exuberantly around the living room after a drunken night out.
The play is structured in two acts, with a total running time of over two hours. The first, lengthier section is made up of vignettes from the years the women spend living together as students, while the second follows the course of their friendship over the next decades, and in particular the fallout of the life-altering events that occur in their final months at university.
The play’s aims, one sometimes feels, could be achieved equally well with a more tightly edited script, but thanks to the abilities of all involved it is not a hardship to spend this length of time with these characters.
Given that the first act includes an impassioned speech from sociology student Viv about the purpose of clothing as a communicative device, it is fitting that much care has been taken to reflect each character’s personality and circumstances in their frequent costume changes. An upbeat 1980s soundtrack from sound designer Antoine Jelk also helps to set the tone.
As is evident from its content warnings, Di and Viv and Rose deals with some ‘big themes’: abuse, death, and sexuality, among others. It is a testament to the skill of the three actors and to Bullmore’s writing, however, that what emerges as the most memorable aspect of the play is the characters themselves. Never mere conduits or stereotypes, they are instead well-rounded and utterly believable, as people and as friends.
Di and Viv and Rose by Amelia Bullmore
The Corseted Rabbits Collective
RUMPUS Theatre, Bowden
Director: Rachel Burke
Designer: Meg Wilson
Stage Manager: Grace Calabretto
Sound Design: Antoine Jelk
Technical Design and Management: Mark Oakley
Photography: Jamie Hornsby
Graphic Design: Mahala Hall
Cast: Julia Vosnakis, Georgia Laity, Isabel Vanhakartano
Di and Viv and Rose will be performed until 24 July 2022