Review of Viva Forever! Piccadilly Theatre January 2013
When you think of the Spice Girls, you do not necessarily think of powerful musical oeuvres. What you do think of is bounce, spirit, irreverence, originality, and most of all fun; all things which were conspicuously absent from Viva Forever!. Written by Jennifer Saunders and directed by Judy Craymer, of Mamma Mia fame, it should have been witty, satirical and joyous. Unfortunately it was none of those things.
The formula is simple; four girls taking are part in a televised musical talent competition – did somebody say X Factor? – but only one, the beautiful Viva, is chosen to go any further in the contest. What will she do; will she remain loyal to her friends and renounce her dream, or will she dump them and forge ahead to stardom alone? If only we cared.
Unfortunately very few of the characters, or caricatures, in this show are likeable, or even believable enough to interest us in their future. The fact is that the whole talent show scenario has been satirized to death, to the point where the industry is permanently sending itself up, and there really is very little left to mock any more. The show, however did its best with clunky gags such as the Simon Cowell character wearing a corset, and the screamingly homosexual dresser constantly calling the girls fat. Ho hum. Everyone careered around the stage at the same time, roaring unto mobiles or headsets, gurning at cameras or primping in front of mirrors, creating such messy chaos that you didn’t know where to look. The only bright spots were Sally Dexter as Simone, Viva’s Cruella-esque mentor, doing her best with a lousy script, and Hatty Preston as her endearingly ditzy assistant Minty who speaks in hash-tags. Viva’s mother is a free-spirit. We know she is a free spirit because she lives on a boat, drinks too much and wears mini dresses with clumpy trainers. She also says “Only On Your Terms” all the time. She has an irritating friend and a rather drippy male admirer. The rest of the characters were so instantly forgettable as to be barely there.
There is a sub-plot of sorts, where we discover that Viva is adopted. Will she allow the producers of the show to find her birth mother? How will her adopted mother react? Again, meh. Actually that whole story was a little odd; I could have sworn that the whole thing was set up to reveal that Simone was – Ta Dah! – in fact Viva’s mother. In fact they did a little song which seemed, with the subtlety of a JCB, to hint at that very thing. But no! The whole issue of Viva’s parentage was abruptly deflated and thereafter apparently forgotten. Strange. In fact the show is littered with loose ends, as if the writer, Jennifer Saunders, kept thinking “I don’t really know where I’m going with this” then collapsing with a bad case of the “It’ll dos”. Throw in an unconvincing and rather sickly romance between Viva and a soulful Spaniard, and that pretty much wraps it up.
Oh but no, I’m forgetting the songs! The Spice Girls classics that the whole show is supposed to turn upon. Well of course here we hit another snag. The Spice Girls were feisty, fun and feminist, and delivered several snappy pop classics over their three album career, but their back catalogue is simply not strong enough to hold up a two-hour musical. “Mama” and “Who Do You Think You Are” were obvious choices for the plot line, and “Spice Up Your Life” was fun and apposite, despite being performed against a backdrop which made Spain look rather more like an ancient Incan party. However we had to wait right until the end for Wannabe, by which point I’m afraid my enthusiasm had waned somewhat, and others appeared to have been shoehorned into the production at all costs, or maybe the plot had been crow-barred around them. Too much, following an unsavoury discussion about pubic hair, was a case in point, and Viva Forever! itself, sung longingly by the Spaniard against waving palms and a violet sunset was a big disappointment. 2 Become 1 was an unexpected high point, as Viva’s mother and her beau camped it up outrageously over their first amorous encounter. I think that was actually the one real laugh of the evening, and brilliantly performed.
I’m not entirely sure who Viva Forever! is aimed at. The Spice Girls fans in their thirties would be frustrated at the lack of nineties-style pop feminism, and by the shoddy renditions of their favourite songs. The teenage girls who would be excited by the talent-show-follow-your-dreams theme would probably have better things to spend their money on. Ultimately I’m afraid this show is destined to disappoint everybody on some level until it sinks quietly into the annals of inglorious musical history.
Review by Genni Trickett
16 Denman Street
London W1V 8DY
Tuesday 15th January 2013