Review: Viva Forever

The evening choice for my London visit, as promised to my sister as a birthday gift, was Viva Forever touted as “a new musical based on the songs of the Spice Girls”.

viva-forever-poster1

Where and When: Picadilly Theatre London, Thursday 13 June 2013, 7:30pm

The Show

I did have a wobble about seeing this show as the reviews have been at best mixed, since the opening in December. Some were pretty brutal. (See the Daily Mail for a selection of quotes, the Guardian for a gently disappointed review and the Telegraph for a complete trashing). However, I don’t think it was quite so bad as to deserve half a star out of five (The Telegraph)!

I’ll start with the show itself, as usual. The real highlight was the book – the script was witty, especially the exchanges between Viva’s mother, Lauren, and her friend Suzi. Some of the songs were also used to great effect, such as “2 become 1” as a duet between Lauren and her new boyfriend Mitch.

Like all jukebox musicals, some of the songs were put in places where they felt forced or awkward. I didn’t think the problem was half as bad in this show as it was in We Will Rock You. However, the big group numbers worked really well, and I loved the duet/trio arrangement of “Goodbye/Mama/Headlines (Friendship Never Ends)”.

There were, ultimately, two big problems with this show. Firstly, the sound mixing was terrible on many of the songs sung as solos. The vocals were left very bare, so the sound felt thin, even though my musician’s ears could hear that the orchestral backing was designed to make up for it. This was noticeably better in the second half, but remained an issue.

The second was the overall plot. I’m not sure that the talent show story was the right way to go. The story itself did work from beginning to end, but it has been done before several times over, and once you’ve seen Charlie Brooker’s fabulous Black Mirror: 15 Million Merits which satirises talent shows, the plot of Viva Forever is saying nothing new.

Still, if you don’t go expecting much, it is an enjoyable evening as as you get into Saunders’ Ab Fab-esque comedy there are some great moments of this show to enjoy. I certainly found myself laughing right through the show.

The Cast

Despite many of the failings of the show, the cast themselves did a great job with the material. The characterisation award has to go to Tamara Wall as the scarily plastic talent show judge Karen. A cliche of cliches, maybe, but Wall pitched her character just right. Sally Ann Triplett (Lauren, Viva’s mother) bounces really well off Lucy Montgomery (Suzi) and it’s in their conversations you can see Saunders’ style most clearly. Simon Slater also does extraordinarily well as Mitch. In particular, I must say that Triplett and Slater responded beautifully to some heckling which made them both laugh. Thankfully, the scene was already meant to be funny and awkward for the characters, so they were able to return to the script without too much trouble!

Unfortunately, the vocal performances of the girls cast as ‘Eternity’ left a lot to be desired. They did well enough, but they weren’t strong enough as a group to really be convincing. Hannah John-Kamen did sing well as Viva. However, she was a rather lacklustre heroine overall, not least because she was playing straight to the comedy of the ‘adult’ characters. Her sub-plot romantic interest (Angel, played by Ben Cura) was never developed enough to be convincing.

Credit must be given to Hatty Preston who was cast in the dire role of Minty who seemed to be scripted to end every sentance saying “hashtag” as though her character could not tell the difference between real life and twitter. However, Preston carried the role off with apolmb. I don’t imagine she will miss her script much after the end of this month though!

Notable Songs:

  • Goodbye/Mama/Headlines (Friendship Never Ends) – Viva/Lauren[/Simone] (Medium, Duet[/Trio]) 

Overall

Since I went in not expecting much, I was pleasantly surprised at some very funny moments in the book, and some really well arranged songs. There were some strong dance performances, and some good examples of characterisation. The overall plot/premise was really the problem here and I think the same creative team could have produced something really special if the plot had been more innovative. I don’t think this show will get a transfer or revivals, but I’m still glad I saw it, and I’m glad I shared one last Spice Girls moment with my little sister (even if she did cringe when I attempted to join in with the dance to Stop during the encore!).

Rating ♥ ♥  (2/5)  [I’d give it 2.5 if I could, but alas, I chose the Fringe 5-star rating system]

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