LITERATURE, mythology and the stage are peppered with depictions of male friendship, and undoubtedly it can be heroic and special. But female friendship is also special, and much less shown.
Di and Viv and Rose is just that – a play about female friendship which looks at this relationship with kind but honest eyes, unflinchingly exploring the frailties and the strengths, the lies, half-truths and frightening honesty with which women friends understand and support each other, and sometimes let each other down.
It examines what kindness is, and why someone might want to be seen to be kind, what ambition can do to you, how facing your fears can make you stronger and what love means in a lifelong friendship.
Playwright Amelia Bullmore, in her notes on writing Di and Viv and Rose, talks about the “particular potency of friendships made when you first leave home … in which almost every kind of loving impulse can be played out … as well as the darker impulses to quash and control.”
Rose, the warm-hearted daughter of a depressed mother and kind, wealthy step-father, is newly arrived at university and determined to have sex with as many men as she wants. There is a hilarious exchange with a fellow student when she refers to her current man’s “thing” and responds to the challenge that she should use a proper word with a litany of the choices (Latin, ugly, clunky) ending with “and willy is silly and fanny is my cousin.”
Georgia Holder absolutely nails the vulnerability beneath the unkempt blonde mane and the colourful scarves and ribbons. She cooks for her house-mates with the same energetic generosity that gets her into bed with, at one point, eight different men in a fortnight. Don’t judge her – she is, in many ways, the heart of the story.
Di seems, at first sight, the most straightforward character – a sporty type who is openly gay and looking for love. Alison Maynard-Griffin, in what is amazingly her 23rd role with the Swan, convincingly conveys both the physical swagger of the character and the painful lack of confidence which is so close to the surface.
Viv is assertive, feminist, intellectual, spiky and driven. The kindness and care she sometimes shows is quickly put back in its box, and the veneer gets glossier and more brittle. Success only adds to the armour. So when she (inevitably) crashes, it is all the more shocking. You believe implicitly (if that word isn’t being a bit overused this week) in the truth of Sarah Nias’ performance.
We watch these three women over 30 years, from first year uni to graduation and into adult life, moving away, keeping in touch, sharing horror, tragedy and many, many laughs. It is very much like life, really!
The set is simple – the untidy student house for the first act, a bare stage for the many locations of the second act – and the costumes are carefully attuned to the perio, but it is the music that is the most important additional element. Whether it’s the Eurythmics or timeless Tina Turner, the sass of Chrissie Hynde and The Pretenders or the infectious joy of Irene Cara’s What a Feeling, it is almost all by women and it provides a constantly evolving and emotional backdrop to the story.
Director Mark Payne, addressing head-on the almost certain accusation that a man shouldn’t direct this play, makes the necessary assertion that plays about women need also to make men think – “in the ‘Me Too’ age, all men need to understand women more.” He’s right, and judging from some of the comments I heard at the interval, this thoughtful, funny and profoundly moving play was doing just that.
Di and Viv and Rose is at the Swan until 22nd January. www.swan-theatre.co.uk