The reviews are in for this Spice Girls-inspired musical and it’s an understatement to say that they’re not good. But we actually rather enjoyed the show, despite its many flaws.
A girl group is competing in an X Factor-style talent show. Cue a hashtag-obsessed production assistant, three parodied feuding judges and a worried houseboat-living mother with a drinking problem. And this is just the start. Jennifer Saunders’ book is full of many more clichés and exaggerated characters as well as unfinished plot lines and bad jokes. It also has only the loosest links with its Spice Girls songs and lyrics frequently bear little relation to the story onstage.
There are lots of things to dislike, but in the case of continual references to the title character’s excess fat and the need for a sympathy story to secure media support, these are more a reflection of the reality TV world Saunders’ is portraying than the show itself. However, other humour relating to pubic hair, vajazzles and MILFs seem unnecessary. As does the intermittent over-acting and the use of two particularly uninspiring solo songs by Mel C and Geri Haliwell.
However, at the heart of Viva Forever! is a girl seeking fame. She abandons her fellow group members and then repents, realising that friendship is more valuable than the bright lights of stardom. And it is here, in the title character’s tale, that this show shines. Played by Hannah John-Kamen (who is truly deserving of such a prominent West End debut with her fabulous voice), Viva is a headstrong young girl who captures the audience’s imagination and is especially powerful when duetting with her adopted mother, played by Sally Ann Triplett. Triplett also has her own moments in the spotlight as she is hilariously seduced by loveable old friend Mitch (Simon Slater) with a so-awful-it’s-good rendition of 2 Become 1.
The cast’s encore to Wannabe is the best part of the show, with an all-singing, all-dancing cast making the most of the upbeat tune and providing a proper display of West End talent and energy. It’s a shame there wasn’t more of this, and that the story wasn’t more original or inspiring, but nevertheless it’s great to have the Spice Girls’ infectious music performed onstage again. We might even swap our iPod Christmas playlist for some of their feel-good 90s tunes...
Photo (including Hannah John-Kamen, third from right) courtesy of Viva Forever!