Verity Roat and Charlotte Carter in Di and Viv and Rose. Photo: Sean Owen.

The 30-year friendship of three women from university onwards is the bedrock of this complex comedy.

Di and Viv and Rose are thrown together in student halls of residence at northern university in 1983, forming a somewhat unlikely but lasting friendship, and going on to live together during their studies and staying in touch beyond.

The characters are taken beyond their somewhat stereotypical surface personas by decent performances and some, at times, witty scripting. Tara Woodley plays Rose, the naïve but generous (especially to beautiful boys) art history student with a believable warmth. Verity Roat is the straight-edged and serious Viv, driven to study anthropology to the exclusion of much else, with a reserve that cracks at just the right moments. Charlotte Carter is Di, the never quite comfortable sporty, lesbian, business studies student.

Amelia Bullmore’s script teases out more rounded characters than at first seems evident, with two traumatic incidents generating a surprising amount of audience sympathy. It even almost gets away with the dramatic isolation of those events by using a constant framework of short vignettes, letting us fill in some of the blanks of plotting and character.

Verity Roat, Charlotte Carter and Tara Woodley in Di and Viv and Rose. Photo: Sean Owen.
Verity Roat, Charlotte Carter and Tara Woodley in Di and Viv and Rose. Photo: Sean Owen.

It is, however, overlong and the first half is a little wearing with the repetitive blackouts that serve as time lapses and punctuate eight main scenes and plenty of shorter ones within. The multiple locations of the second half stretch the limited facilities of the Sewell Barn stage, with some lengthier scene and costume changes making the action drag between instalments.

Emma Kirkham’s direction does keep things lively when the cast are on stage. Although there is a sense of warmth between the players they don’t quite relax together; one scene where they dance around their living room after a night out feels forced and overdrawn, rather than packed with reckless abandon. You might say you had to be there, but we were.

The story deals with some big issues, but overall the script tackles them as just that: issues rather than parts of the characters’ lives. We never quite get to the nub of what draws and keeps the women together, other than – perhaps – as one says “growing up near one another”. And that doesn’t quite seem enough.

  • Di and Viv and Rose continues at Sewell Barn Theatre until April 22, 2023.