English theatre performance explores female friendships
Luxembourg's English language theatre company BGT's production of Amelia Bullmore’s play, Di and Viv and Rose, currently performing at Neimënster will take you back to your university days in a flash.
Intimately staged in the Salle José Ensch, it’s like you’re almost sitting in the student digs alongside this trio of women.
Rose, the happy-go-lucky girl who existentially lives life to the full, is played by Lina Pellar. Her father has died, her mother is depressed, and her Del-Boy-esque step-father dumps furniture at the house he has bought for her to share.
Pellar, with an endearing Luxembourgish twang to her accent, is excellent at portraying that youthful passion and eagerness to try everything. Rose is relatable, loveable and infuriating.
Rachel Kathryn Lloyd gives a measured performance as dungaree-clad, sporty lesbian Di. She sounds like a bit of an 80s cliché, but her character is the glue in the friendship, the most reasonable, with a quiet determination. This was an era when being honest about sexual orientation was not always possible even in student circles, and Di is unable to tell her mother she is homosexual. Lloyd presents her as understated, and this is critical to the plot, as the audience will discover.
Uptight Viv, a hard working but arrogant sociology student who “dresses like they did in the war”, according to Rose, is not a likeable character. Unable to get close to others, and clearly raised by over-expectant parents, she is the one who eventually lives her dream. Played by Céline Planata, this was probably a hard role to get right, and it’s not clear if the director or the actress want the audience to like her or even understand her. She’s a closed book in many ways.
Intimate yet full of one-liners
The first half of the performance focuses very much on student life, the ups and downs of living together, moving into a shared house, and the trials of finding your voice. It’s intimately acted, and clear that the actors, probably students themselves not that long ago, work well together.
If there is a slight lack of chemistry, it is not down to the actors, but more that Bullmore chose three characters who are very different. In all probability they would not have ended up sharing a house together, but for the purposes of drama and interchange it suits the play.
There are debates about feminism and sexual freedom, moments of fun and laughter, and a couple of tragic shocks for the audience. There are some extremely funny one-liners too, delivered with great comic timing from the trio.
There is even humour in the stage settings, with those incredibly uncomfortable plastic sofas favoured by student landlords at the time, and a line of people queuing for the payphone. It certainly spoke to this reviewer’s own 1980s university experience.
The music which plays when the sets are being changed - which happens a fair bit - has been carefully chosen to reflect the previous scene, but will also bring back memories of the Communards, Tears for Fears and Oasis.
An all female cast in a play about women
BGT helmsman Tony Kingston chose the play not only because it has “three very strong roles for female actors…but it is also a play in which the subject is the characters and their relationships”. And in this sense, it is quite unlike previous plays Kingston has directed with a mostly female cast such as “Picnic at hanging rock” and “We happy few”.
Fittingly Kingston co-directed with his daughter Ferelith, fresh out of university herself, and there is a dynamism, a sort of planned chaos to the direction, which makes it feel almost improvised.
Whilst the first half of the play captures the friendships as they develop in youth, the second half looks at the fate of the trio once they leave university and no longer live together.
Ambitions are achieved or lost, and the friends are no longer under the microscope for the audience, who instead get snippets of the different paths taken by the women. It feels less intimate, and the friends themselves become less close, even tense at times, feeding off a remembered collective past.
In real life, most of us would jettison these friendships, and Bullmore’s script is perhaps a little contrived. Would you really be close to friends you see so infrequently, even if you once shared so much with them? An interesting thought for the many expats who have made Luxembourg their long-term home, leaving lifelong friends behind.
Go for nostaliga
Go to this play for the nostalgia, to remember intense student friendships, probably long lost (well definitely in this reviewer’s case), and for a reminder that life can turn out to be so different from what you expected.
You can catch Di and Viv and Rose at Neimënster Cultural Centre (Salle José Ensch) at 19.30 on Thursday and until Saturday 30 October. More information and ticket bookings are available here.
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