Theatre review: Di and Viv and Rose - Anyone fancy a girls' night in?

Amelia Bullmore's funny, filthy dialogue propels three old mates through the highs and lows of friendship

So, when shall we do this again? It's the question three female friends, who bond at university, keep asking – fondly or bitterly or mournfully – as the decades pass in Di and Viv and Rose. Starring Anna Maxwell Martin, Gina McKee and Tamzin Outhwaite, Amelia Bullmore's new tragicomedy charts how their platonic love stands the test of time, starting in 1983 when they meet as freshers.

Maxwell Martin's Rose is an eager beaver, prone to faux pas and open-hearted. She's keen to play house and cook for the other two when they move into off-campus digs, plonking a ghetto blaster in one corner, draping a silk scarf over a standard lamp, and putting up Picasso and Man Ray posters.

Without seeing the evidence, the audience soon gleans that Rose is developing a voracious sexual appetite, out on the town. She insists it's her free choice, sleeping with guys who tickle her fancy, although her promiscuity is needy and dangerous in McKee's opinion. Her Viv, a sociology student, guards her privacy and studies hard, determined to seize the career opportunities open to her generation. Meanwhile, Outhwaite's Di is an affable, sporty lesbian, with monogamous instincts.

More than just rub along, the trio forms a supportive sisterhood, helping each other through traumatic experiences, not least a sexual assault and single parenting. Nevertheless, as their paths diverge, they don't share enough and one of them nurses resentments.

Bullmore's dialogue is often very funny, especially in the case of Rose's blithely explicit chatter. Some speeches feel pasted in, though, such as Viv's feminist mini-lectures, and the off-stage characters never quite come into focus. Further script development might have honed the storytelling which sometimes rambles, sometimes races.

Anna Mackmin's production needs more sharp-eyed detailing yet admirably takes rapid-fire scenes in its stride, with snappy lighting and bursts of vibrant Eighties pop, from The Cure's "Love Cats" to Kate Bush's "Running Up That Hill".

One may balk at actresses in their thirties and forties playing teens, but that largely ceases to matter given the ball the cast is clearly having, dancing drunkenly and somersaulting on to sofas. The roles also offer emotional range, McKee losing her cool in grief and fury, Outhwaite becoming startlingly moving, after some perfunctory swaggering.

Oscar Wilde's bosom buddy proves less reliable in The Judas Kiss (Duke of York's Theatre, London), a revival transferring to the West End from Hampstead Theatre. Yes, the clue's in the name of David Hare's biodrama, and, historically, "Bosie", aka the young Marquess of Queensberry, has been portrayed as a feckless upper-class brat who, undeservedly adored, was Wilde's downfall.

The renowned playwright and wit was, of course, notoriously tried for sex crimes: accused of sodomy by Bosie's homophobic pater and slammed in Reading Gaol. In Neil Armfield's production, we see Freddie Fox's Bosie flicking back his blond hair and leaving Rupert Everett's Wilde in the lurch, twice. In Act I, Oscar's arrest is imminent yet Bosie persuades him not to flee the country – only to scarper himself when the police arrive. In Act II, Everett – out of prison and living in destitute exile – is reunited with his beloved merely to be ditched again.

Fox contrives to make Bosie mercurially complex: a selfish cad yet ardently clingy, feverishly imagining that Oscar might one day publicly defend the love that has not, hitherto, dared to speak its name. Everett, in turn, demonstrates that Wilde's insouciant manner was partly a mask. Reclining in a chair, he quips eloquently as he awaits his fate but keeps gazing into the auditorium with an obvious sense of doom. Despite having attracted some rave notices, this is not a truly great performance. What's more, the eye-candy extras striking nude poses in this staging seem too much of a calculated titillation.

It's harder to resist the Seventies African-American romcom by Don Evans, One Monkey Don't Stop the Show (Tricycle Theatre, London). Staged with bounce by the touring company Eclipse, it fully lives up to its billing as Restoration comedy crossed with The Cosby Show. Rebecca Scroggs's Beverley is a country girl lodging with prim, bourgeois relatives in the city. She sets her heart on a streetwise rover, Clifford Samuel's Caleb, who is more smitten than he wants to admit.

Too bad that director Dawn Walton gets the production off to a shaky start, setting up expectations of constant laughs by presenting it as a TV sitcom with canned applause. Some of the acting is too self-consciously cartoony, especially Jocelyn Jee Esien as an uppity Mrs Malaprop type, cocking her leg as she pours tea. By contrast, Scroggs and Samuel are charmingly funny, ending in a rumpled huff when trying to share a bed without hanky-panky. Only gradually does it emerge that the characters' soliloquies are building into a thoughtful panorama of post-Sixties sexual mores.

 

'Di and Viv and Rose' (020-7722 9301) to 23 Feb; 'The Judas Kiss' (0844 871 7623) to 6 April; 'One Monkey Don't Stop the Show' (020-7328 1000) touring to 16 March

Hampstead Theatre, London

Critic's Choice

Cheek by Jowl embarks on its latest UK tour, boldly staging Alfred Jarry's scatological Ubu Roi in French, with subtitles, at Warwick Arts Centre, Coventry (Wed-Sat). The Silence of the Sea is an intimate portrait of a Nazi officer lodging with resistant French locals, based on the underground novel by Jean Bruller, who used the code name Vercors. It gets a taut dramatisation, starring Finbar Lynch and Leo Bill, at London's Trafalgar Studios (to Sat).

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