DI AND VIV AND ROSE Vaudeville, WC1

THE GIRLS ARE BACK…

There are not many all-woman plays around, nor many about female friendship; nor do many reflect the particular, unique long-term comradeship which begins in the cheerful domestic squalor of university sharers, and stretches over decades of fairly ordinary lives. Having known those things myself, I was thrilled by Amelia Bullmore’s play when it emerged at Hampstead, recognizing – from an age before Facebook – the intensity of same-sex student houses-shares when conversations were, mostly between those whose grimy mattresses were closest. My younger companion, interestingly, recognized it less. In the internet age they can, at least mentally, get out more without spending money…

The play takes us from larky beginnings as three girls share a house, to a downbeat end when only two remain as custodians of a common past. And actually it is highly refreshing (as is also the case in the new Stoppard) to see a diversity of young women presented not as types relative to men, nor as victims or campaigners. Just people, as likely to mess up their lives as men are. It is often funny, sometimes touching, clever in its staging. Tamzin Outhwaite reprises her fabulous Amazonian role as Di – gay, sporty, the noblest and most faithful and straightforward of the three. Jenna Russell is ditzy, sexy, larky maternal Rose, always making soup or love; Samantha Spiro the most ambitious, a feminist sociologist who “dresses like it was the war”, and dreams of working with a Paglia-esque New York academic on the oppressive history of the corset (it apparently “constricted women’s digestive tract so much that their faecal matter resembled that of rabbits”). Their cohabitation is lovingly drawn through arguments, launderette rotas, manic dancing comradeship and a catastrophe which drives them closer together.

In the second half, set more barely, time accelerates over 25 years and a series of meetings bringing news, attrition and conflict. There are some great lines – without spoiling it I can quote one character worrying that marriage is square while another responds “Marrying an Algerian gardener isn’t square, not if you’re a single mother with Japanese twins”. There are major jolts of fortune – one might, in the last ten minutes, argue that there is one too many – and the balance of friendship is tested. Anna Mackmin’s direction is fast and neat, with framed moments carrying the action on without scenic fuss. It deserved its West End transfer.

box office 0844 412 4663 to 23 May

rating four 4 Meece Rating

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