Viva Forever: The Musical at The Picadilly Theatre

November 5, 2013


In the salient days of my youth when asked to chose between Blur and Oasis I always chose the path paved by Girl Power. I drew a line at donning the Union Jack and Buffalo Boots but I did own everything they ever recorded, travelled abroad to see them(twice) and in my mid twenties moved into a house for the sole purpose that Victoria Beckham exited it in the Stop video. So when it was announced that Judy Craymer, the producer of Mama Mia would be fashioning a musical out of their biggest hits with a book from Ab Fab’s Jennifer Saunders you can bet I was interested. After all, jukebox musicals can be a gas…if you check your cynicism and standards at the door.

And so it is with Viva Forever where the punters not only demand their pound of Spice but their right to regurgitate it back up, to such an extent that by the final number the production just abandons the story all together and hands the mic over to the audience for a medley of hits already heard throughout the show.

A Frankenstein of modern pop culture it grafts elements of the girls own story over caricatures of stars like Cheryl Cole and Sharon Osbourne to explore themes of identity, family and survival.

A talent show, Star Maker, has hit the skids. Ratings are plummeting and even the judges have to use google to find out who won the previous years contest. Older judge Simone(a terrific Sally Dexter) is up for the chop when the lecherous Svengali, her former lover Johnny(Bill Ward) lavishes all his attention on younger chav Karen(Tamara Wall), informing her “men age, women rot”. Stuck with the dud category, The Girl Group , she decides to take matters into her own hands and launch one of the ladies, the titular Viva, solo.

While it’s fair to say some of the scenes and subplots are purely sewn on to facilitate the songs, the acting is by and large excellent, the humour louche and while you might like them to delve a little deeper into the different ideas they play with, Saunders shows great acumen in keeping it broad. If she stops delivering the laughs, the audience improvise their own.

For the most part the production wisely chooses to stay faithful to the spirit of the originals, staging them as lairy, pissed sing alongs, with Sally-Ann Triplett as Viva’s hairy Mary feminist mom and Lucy Montgomery as her thong-baring best mate, wringing particular laughs from the double entendres. Too Much is hen night hillarity, 2 Become 1 a tender ode to middle aged mating while the two solo spice numbers, Look at Me and I Turn to You are the highlight, accounting for the physical and psycological cost of fame.

If you’re a fan of the Spice Girls this will sate a need. If you’re not, then what the hell were you doing forking out for a ticket? As the gays and the girls who kept leaping out of their seats to dance had to be reminded, this is theatre. But it’s really more about revisiting the glory days of girl power. The play’s really not the thing.

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