Tag Archives: london west end

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]

Review: Billy Elliot the Musical

As part of my trip home to see my family in England, I was lucky enough to be able to pop into London to see a couple of shows. First off, the matinee choice:

 

Where and when: Victoria Palace Theatre London, Thursday 13 June 2013, 2:30pm

The Show

I wasn’t sure what to expect from this show as I’ve seen the film which inspired it, but had not heard much about the musical other than about the rigorous training required for the child actors. It very quickly becomes apparent that this is a show which casts dancers who sing. I was overwhelmingly impressed by the choreography throughout, though in particular the “Solidarity” scene will be the one I remember. Police officers and striking miners dance their war of attrition while young ballet girls weave in and out of them. There are some longer dance scenes for Billy which, while impressive, did not do much to forward the story.

The music has been written in a way that retains a traditional musical theatre sound while drawing on the sound of 1980s music. There are a few solo song numbers which convey beautifully the tense and fractured relationships between members of Billy’s family, as well as Billy’s personal grief at the death of his mother prior to the start of the story.

I will freely admit to finding the opening number of the second half “Merry Christmas Maggie Thatcher” more than a bit uncomfortable, after her death earlier this year, but I think that was an issue of timing more than anything. I did read on Wikipedia that: “On 8 April 2013, it was announced that Margaret Thatcher had died at the age of 87 of a stroke and there was uncertainty whether the song ‘Merry Christmas, Maggie Thatcher’ would be included in the performance that day due to the lyrics including: “We all celebrate today ’cause it’s one day closer to your death”. Director Stephen Daldry said that after “much discussion”, the audience were given the choice to decide whether the song should be performed and, with only 3 audience members voting against it, the performance went ahead as normal.”

The Cast

The adults in this cast were very good (frankly, it’s the West End, they should be). The particular highlight for me was Ann Emery in as Grandma, who has the wonderful solo “Grandma’s Song”. Anna Jane-Casey also does brilliantly as the insecure but forceful Sandra Wilkinson. Both Deka Walmsly as Dad and Kevin Wathan as Tony also carried off their parts brilliantly.

It’s obvious that Billy (I believe it was Tade Biesinger on for our performance) is cast almost entirely on dance ability rather than singing or acting, and the acting was the weakest skill by miles. Zach Aitkinson as Michael was much better, but the role of Michael doesn’t require so much dancing, and needs greater acting skills than Billy. The wee, nameless, boy who opens the show did a marvellous job, especially given he couldn’t have been more than 6 or 7.

Overall, I would say that the energy did feel a little flat compared to other shows I’ve seen. When you’re playing eight shows a week, it’s not surprising that the medweek matinee doesn’t quite sparkle as much as it should do.

Notable Songs

  • Grandma’s Song – Grandma (Hard)
  • Born to Boogie – Sandra Wilkinson (Technically an ensemble, but could be a med-hard solo)
  • Electricity – Billy (Easy-Med)

Overall

I really enjoyed this show, and I expect it to have a good long time to run yet. I do wonder how well it plays internationally, but it seems that overseas transfers have all done well, so the book clearly does a good job of explaining the British politics!

I wasn’t outright blown away by this show, but I feel we made a really good choice and I enjoyed the story thoroughly.

Rating ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ (4/5)