Stars explained: * A production of no real merit with failings in all areas. ** A production showing evidence of not enough time or effort, or even talent, and which never breathes any real life into the piece – or a show lumbered with a terrible script. *** A good enjoyable show which might have some small flaws but has largely achieved what it set out to do.**** An excellent show which shows a great deal of work and stage craft with no noticeable or major flaws.***** A four star show which has found that extra bit of magic which lifts theatre to another plane.
Half stars fall between the ratings


 Amarpreet Manwaha as Di, Julie Cunningham as Viv and Dominika Nala as Rose. Pictures. Emily White.

Di and Viv and Rose

Highbury Little Theatre


Opposites attract, that’s what we are told. It’s certainly true of magnets, and Jack Spratt and his missus got by all right, but then again we are also told about birds of a feather flocking together . . . so where does that leave Di, Viv and Rose.

Our trio are freshers at some Northern uni back in 1983, finding their feet in what we assume are halls of residence. Rose and Di are strangers who end up sharing a room while Rose is always on the pay phone in the hall when Viv, who lives in the room next door, is desperate to use it.

Its a recipe which mean the pair are not natural friends, more likely made for each other enemies.

As for the opposites bit . . . well, Rose, an art history student, is a free spirit and an accommodating individual. She loves boys, accommodating lots of them, sleeping with any that take her fancy, a penchant that is to lead to her being mother of twins by a Japanese father – until their appearance at birth the potential fathers had been whittled down to a mere six – and married to an Algerian gardener.

It is a full of life performance from Dominika Nala, giving us a Rose living every minute of her life, good and bad, to the full. Incidentally, Dominika was also collecting men in her last Highbury role as Kate in Passion Play.

Then there is her room mate Di. Di is a business studies student and sports mad, a member of every team known to man, or in her case woman as she is a lesbian – and if proof were needed, she sits on the lesbian table in the refectory. How times have changed since my uni days.

It is another lovely performance from Amarpreet Manwaha who we last saw as Linda in the excellent Blood Brothers. She makes Di believable and puts real emotion into her soliloquy about Rose in the final scenes.

Finally, there is Viv, the sociology student, who is a feminist warrior whose opinion rating of men doesn’t even reach single figures. She blames them for everything, even corsets, accusing them of controlling and coercing women . . . and those are the least objectionable traits in her long list of complaints.

It is a real touchy performance from Julie Cunningham, last seen as the daughter, another Rose, in the dysfunctional family of Love, Love, Love.

While that Rose blamed her parents for her misfortune, Julie’s Viv blames men for pretty much everything. She hides behind a shield of hard work and ambition and displays no emotions or feelings except a sort of resentful anger simmering just below the surface.

As best buddies go they would hardly be first pick but they are what writer Amelia Bullmore decided to run with in a play about unlikely friendships, spinning the lives of three disparate souls from 1983 to 2010.


Viv opens her letter inviting her to her dream job in New York

Incidentally, there is also Conrad, who has a big part as well, but as we never meet him or see him, and know him only by reputation, it's best we leave it there – you’ll see why if you see the play.

Meanwhile back at the fledgling besties, the scene is set when Rose’s stepfather, Charlie, buys her a house – Rose being several rungs higher up the social ladder than Di or Viv, who she asks to move in with her.

The result is a sort of three amigas, with even Viv letting her guard down at times, with 80’s hits blasting from the beatbox on the mantlepiece, Cyndi Lauper, Billy Ocean, Gloria Gaynor . . . . It’s a bit like a pilot episode of  a new version of The Liver Birds, a light hearted sitcom about the nympho, the lesbian and the feminist . . .

That is until an intruder breaks in one night and Di is . . . let’s just say the sitcom takes a far darker turn, the laughs suddenly seem hollow. It is an event that affects them all, friendships are stronger and closer, but with that comes more openness, more honesty. Real feelings start to appear bolstered by the confidence of real friendship.

For example, when a defensive Rose tries to tell Viv she is nice to everyone because she is kind, Viv counters by telling her: “You are not kind, you are needy and that’s why you are promiscuous.” Home truths abound but bonds are getting stronger.

By act two uni is in the past and we are jumping years at a time. Viv’s hard work and single track ambition has paid off and she has a job in New York, a job which rises in pay and status.

Rose goes back home to her stepfather Charlie, who she says thinks he knows everything and she knows nothing, and a mother who pops pills and has never recovered from losing her husband, and Rose’s father, when she was 42 and Rose was nine.

Charlie bled her radiators and sorted out her tax, so Rose’s mum married him.

And Di, her crush on Abbi Matthews over, ends up living back at home where she declares sadly: "I've gone back to fish on Fridays and not being a lesbian."

Our trio live in isolation, the world revolving around them until, in one moment, their world comes crashing down once more and the dynamics are shattered.

Rose’s all embracing life of fun has gone, time has passed and Di and Viv finally meet for what seems to be one last time. It is a tense meeting, Di is recovering, or so she hopes, from cancer, the successful Viv has rushed back from New York because she thought Di was dying.


Harassed mum Rose arrives, late, to meet up with Di and Viv in a railway station, their first get together since uni

It is their last meeting and Di wants nothing more to do with the selfish, self-centred Viv whose generosity and concern she sees as her just buying her way into looking good . . . until as the pair part in acrimony Viv drops her guard, perhaps for the first time, and opens up to Di about her feelings, who she is, he own disappointment and vulnerability.

Whether opposites really do attract, who knows, but a bond that has lasted 27 years seems impossible to break. Di and Viv embrace, all thoughts of ending it forgotten, and the lights fade on what we know will be the next chapter as the pair head off for Di's next round of cancer treatment.

The play is episodic, frustratingly so at the start with scenes coming with machine gun rapidity, which, thankfully settles down into longer passages perhaps reflecting chance meetings growing into relationships.

It is also somewhat insular with the music perhaps the only clue to the era with no reference to any of the tumultuous events of the 1980s raging outside. A few props also add to the dating such as the payphone in the hall or that BT classic Trimphone in the house.

With so little outside influence or references it relies entirely upon the characters to carry it through, and the trio bring them to life superbly. We have Rose the ultimate optimist, tinged at times with regret and even sadness, the self-assured Di, lesbian and proud, yet who can’t tell her mum, Mrs Di, about her sexuality, Di, who was afraid of asking Abbi out – and the one picked out to suffer one of a woman’s worst nightmares. She is a survivor not a victim she is told.

 Finally, there is Viv, misandrist Viv, with a shell no one seems able to penetrate and with the only emotion to escape, or at least be seen, being a sort of controlled fury.

Yet we cannot help but start to like all three, we even feel for Viv with her final scene revelation. It is not a perfect play by any means, the balance is perhaps lop sided. The first act covers three years at university, setting a scene that hardly needs that much telling, three girls share a house and get to know each other. The second act flies though 24 years of adulthood, the characters and their stories developing in snatches along the way. We know who they were as students, but know little about them as adults, seeing them as occasionally as they seem to see each other.

Each act though has its dramatic moment, both come as an unexpected jolt, unexpected, unheralded, both well handled and developed, with Di’s bringing the trio closer together and Rose’s act two drama, causing a near meltdown.

There are some clever, witty lines and more serious avenues explored by Bullmore along with some comments and discussions not normally associated with women, but that’s probably a man’s view, which willl in turn, justify Viv’s view of the less fair sex.

What starts off as almost a sitcom is forced by circumstance to become a drama, but it still has its laughs and humour in an entertaining evening with a clever play wonderfully acted by a talented trio.

Directed by Ian Appleby the three amigas will be friends until  27-05-23.

Roger Clarke


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