The Independent London Newspaper
21st October 2014

Letters

THEATRE: Jennifer Saunders' Spice Girls musical really isn't as scary as you may have heard

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    Viva Forever! has come in for some tough early criticism. Picture: Tristram Kenton

    Published: 13 December, 2012
    VIVA FOREVER! at the Piccadilly Theatre
    by CATHERINE USHER

    IF you have already bought tickets for Viva Forever! and have been crying all over your credit card bill since you read the opening night reviews, then dry your tears, fetch your Union Jack dress and dust down your platform shoes, because Viva Forever! truly isn’t as bad as all that.

    Its major shortcoming is that as the project of Judy Craymer, the woman also responsible for producing Mamma Mia!, unfavourable comparisons will be made with the Abba-inspired global hit. The real weakness is that the Spice Girls don’t have anywhere near the quality and quantity of songs that Abba have.

    Yet we all know that, right? Many men in particular don’t want to listen to Spice Girls songs, but they were never the target audience of “Girl Power” anyway. The show is basically hen-do/girls’ night out fodder – it would probably sit more comfortably on a regional tour, where audiences are slightly more inclined to get behind the regulation whooping and dancing.

    There are plenty of moments of laughter, a fairly cheesy script (unavoidable when you analyse the lyrics of the songs) and there isn’t necessarily anything new introduced to the genre. Many elements of Mamma Mia! are repeated – the hippyish single mother Lauren (Sally Ann Triplett), now living in a house-boat rather than a rundown Greek hotel, the wilful only child daughter Viva (Hannah John-Kaman), the quirky friends of both generations and the exotic settings (a sudden trip to Spain this time). And it is nose-bleedingly stereotypical too – in Jennifer Saunders’ Spain (she wrote the book), the streets are full of Flamenco dancers, bull fighters and even the occasional boogieing priest.

    Yet there is much to entertain. The blundering, middle-aged fledgling romance between Lauren and Mitch (Simon Slater) includes an excellent 2 Become 1 bedroom scene, which is as funny as it is awkward, and the duet of Viva Forever between Viva and the dishy Angel (Ben Cura), accompanied only by a guitar (very La Isla Bonita), is beautifully romantic. 

    Plus every second that Simon Adkins’ bitchy reality TV stylist Leon is on stage is a hoot and his opening insult that Viva and her band-mates’ “whiff of Primark” is hilarious. Indeed, there seems to be a strange shoe-based sub-plot pervading the story – those who are “being themselves” wear flat shoes, boots or trainers, while divas wear heels. The higher they are, the more detached from reality the wearer is, and rebels symbolically take their shoes off and dance around in their bare feet to demonstrate how liberated they are. 

    Ultimately, Viva Forever! has many faults and the Girl Power bravado generated in the mid-1990s is now watered down to an uninspiring X Factor-style concoction, in which Viva’s band is more like the insipid Little Mix than the glorious Baby, Ginger, Posh, Scary and Sporty. 

    But Wannabe and Spice Up Your Life are undeniable feel-good anthems and any show that closes with these corkers is going to remind Spice Girls fans of yesteryear what a happy time the Girl Power era really was.

    UNTIL JUNE 1

     

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