Di and Viv ad Rose

Date 22nd May 2023
Society Retford Little Theatre
Venue Retford Little Theatre
Type of Production Play
Director Donnamarie Stamp
Written By Amelia Bullmore


Author: Jules Jones

Thank you for the warm welcome at Retford Little Theatre. It was so interesting to see the reaction from the audience as they entered the theatre to an ‘in the round’ performance.

Di and Viv and Rose by Amelia Bullmore is a warm and funny play about female friendship, with three great roles for female performers. Aged 18, three women join forces. Life is fun. Living is intense. Together they feel unassailable.  The play is a thoughtful exploration of friendship's impact on life and life's impact on friendship.

Donnamarie Stamp, director (producer) managed this play with real skill. The set design, costumes, music, and lights came together to emphasise the action and tell this modern story. (Donnamarie played Viv, as one actress had to pull out.) A really dynamic approach to the subject matter and a thoughtful process to staging and engaging an audience. The actors were well drilled, utilising 4 exits and entrances, holding the space, speaking well, waiting for music interludes, moving stage props, and creating space to tell their story. Excellent!

Stage manager Maxine Goldstone and her team, Jayne Cox, Derek Green, Julie Mackey, and Sarah McKay worked hard, striking, and providing props for different scenes. Their slick timing and swift movements became part of the storytelling almost like a fast-forward button. Lighting designer Cody McGinty and operator Cody and Safron Waby created lighting that emphasised the action and enabled the transition between the time zones of the story. Creating the right mood and along with the sound designer David Cox, and sound operator Dean Woolley, who utilised snippets of music from the era playing out before us, or songs with lyrics that reflected the story were clever and linked to the audiences’ memories of the 80’s and 90’s.

The set itself, being in the round, was really interesting. Construction and décor by Gaffer Roger Jones, with Philip Cooper, Geoff Foulds, Mick Fox, Gavin Johnston, Robert Joynes, Barrie King, Ian Mather, Simon Pealing, David Smith, and Adrian Sumner. The simple kitchen unit, tea chests, sofa, chair, and side table, became the university halls, the house share at Mossbank, the New York apartment, the station café, and finally a heath.  I was surprised by the way a simple rug or throw could change the whole feel of the action.

Living together as students, nights are spent drinking cider from bowls, (specially commissioned from ‘The Pottery’: Colin Goldstone and Frank Stamp), dancing around the living room, and jumping on the furniture as they turn '80s pop, up to 11 on their boombox. I would have liked the actors to actually sing along, I felt the intimacy of the staging meant that that small section felt outside the action, rather than in it, as the only sound was the music playing. If they had sang along the audience might have joined in or felt more in the moment.

Yet it is the unsettling tonal shift and darker themes that moved the audience.  These storylines are carried through to the end of the play. As carefree early twenties give way to bona fide adulthood, Di, Viv, and Rose are presented with sexual assault, death, alcoholism, and cancer.  The entire first half of the play is given over to the girls' three years at university. This is the vital and formative time during which both they and their friendship grows, blooms, and develops. Their life experiences both high and low and especially the serious elements help shape each of the characters. At the beginning, in particular, Di, Viv, and Rose fall safely into three categories: the lesbian one, the uptight one, and the naive one. They are relatively one-dimensional people whose traits play up to those facets and little else. Then as the women grow up and mature, so do their personalities. As the story unfolds, all three characters become far more believable and well-rounded, reflecting how we all do as we age.

Donna Smithson was confident and assured in the role of Di. She created a believable character, her reaction to the rape, and her speech during the funeral all well-acted, and brilliant direction created empathy with her audience. Viv played by Donnamarie Stamp was a challenging part, Donnamarie was superb, and she demonstrated a complete story arc from young and naive through a strong New York diva, to a sad alcoholic and ultimately charismatic friend holding the three together. Laura Kent played the party girl Rose with huge energy and later tired mother really well. All three actors brought light and shade to the whole friendship and told the story excellently. All the costumes were really lovely, correct to the era, and emphasised the storyline and the different parts of the story. They fought and they fall out, but they loved each other deeply. They were bound together by their shared history. Di and Viv and Rose might have started their lives as strangers, but they ended up sisters.

Promotion and advertising seemed very good, utilising posters and social media.  The programme was lovely, yet did not include the NODA information so will not be entered into the NODA competition, perhaps next time this may be addressed.

Thank you for meeting me after the performance, I was interested to hear about your staging choices and how you came to produce such a moving, thought-provoking, and dynamic piece. Well done.