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Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Viva Forever - Piccadilly Theatre - Monday 10 December **


We tried to convince ourselves that we really, really, really didn’t want to see a jukebox musical based on the Spice Girls back catalogue with a book by Jennifer Saunders, even if all six women have provided us with countless hours of guilt-free fun over the past 20 years, but we faltered at the last minute and couldn’t stop ourselves paying far too much for premium seats for the final preview before press night.


Forty-something single mother Lauren lives an alternative lifestyle on a houseboat in London with her 19 year old adopted daughter, Viva, and both are wondering about her birth parents (so far, so Mamma Mia, even to the extraneous exclamation mark and Judy Craymer reprising her producer role). Viva is part of girl group Eternity, who are contestants on “Starmaker”, a not remotely veiled caricature of X-Factor. A judging panel is led by Johhny, a Cowell-esque creator, and includes a hardened been-there-done-it all-middle aged bitch who is more Sable Colby than Sharon Osborne and a Jordan airhead constantly shadowed by a reality TV crew. Opportunities come and go for Eternity and Viva, including a Spanish love interest, whose accent morphs into cut glass English for a few minutes in act one before reverting quickly back to cod Catalan for the remainder of the show and is never referred to again.


I presume the proceedings are meant to teach us the true value of friendship, but the biggest lesson I learnt was the number of sickly sweet saccharine ballads that make up the majority of the Spice oeuvre. My failing memory recalls five feisty girls and an endless stream of up-tempo Girl Power pop anthems, but the list begins and ends with Wannabe, Stop and Spice Up Your Life.

If the songs don’t stand up to scrutiny, it pains me to say that the major problem is Jennifer Saunder’s wafer-thin book, scant of plot and devoid of jokes. I love Jennifer Saunders and I mean I truly LOVE Jennifer Saunders, no-one knows my sense of humour better than Jennifer Saunders. She has never met me, but she knows me inside out like no other and has never previously let me down. I can hardly bear to say that this is so far removed from even the very worst of Absolutely Fabulous or French & Saunders that you would be hard pushed to find any lineage.

The cast do their best, but experienced West End names such as Sally Ann Triplett as Lauren and Bill Ward as Johnny must surely realise what an absolute crock they are performing in. The fact that virtually the entire audience remain seated throughout the finale “megamix” reprisal of Stop and Spice Up Your Life speaks volumes.

A cynical dated artless money-making exercise that will disappoint the hen parties and tourists at who it is aimed. With X-Factor on the wane, it doesn't even tap into the zeitgeist. I have never resented spending £255 (three tickets at £85 a pop) so much.

Booking until 1 June 2013, the turkey arrives two weeks early - Viva Forever

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