Author Archives: Tim

Viva Forever, Piccadilly Theatre

 

Viva Forever - Camden scenestar-rating-1.0Oh dear. The critics have given Viva Forever one of the worst slatings in recent memory, and its resultant poor sales have sent producer Judy Craymer into a tailspin, with rumours of heavy revisions to the book (or its being scrapped altogether) and pulling in one of the Spice Girls themselves to save the show running rampant in Theatreland. And yet seeing the production in the flesh, it feels like the critics were fairly lenient. Viva Forever is the kind of unequivocal disaster that only arrives once a decade, with every element failing altogether, often on multiple levels.

 

One of the funniest women in television, Jennifer Saunders, has handed in what has to be the worst work of her career in this show’s book. Grabbing the mother-daughter plot from Mamma Mia!, combining it with the silly assistants and showbiz skits from Absolutely Fabulous, and throwing in an extensive and wildly unfunny parody of The X Factor, the script has not a single original feature or laugh-line.  Moody Viva (a clearly bored-to-be-here Hannah John-Kamen) is part of a girl group who have made it through to the finals on a television competition show under Sally Dexter’s ageing diva Simone’s dubious eye. In a publicity stunt she selects only Viva to advance, and she must choose between her friends and fame. Poor Sally Ann Triplett is forced to play Viva’s drunk single mother and copes admirably. Viva’s irritating friends predictably turn on her quite aggressively, only to be reunited with no reconciliation or explanation for the finale.

 

The most disappointing aspect of Viva Forever is the music. For all their “girl power,” the Spice Girls had a distinct lack of hits (and even fewer which lend themselves to a theatrical interpretation), and the production highlights this fact while failing to celebrate their few true pop anthems. Rather than a rousing opener, we’re treated to fifteen minutes of tepid dialogue, and it’s a full forty-five minutes before we hear anything recognisable. “Too Much” emerges out of a conversation between two middle-aged women about there pubic hair (really), while the Act Two starter is left to the Spice Girls Pepsi commercial jingle, with its only lyrics “Generation Next” on an endless loop. The audience needs to wait until the finale to hear what they’ve been waiting for in “Wannabe,” and by then it’s a full two hours and thirty minutes too late.

 

No one expected Viva Forever to be the next Les Miserables, but even the most loyal Spice Girls fan will be palpably let down by this production. How the production will fare if Craymer continues with her plans to export it to Broadway (where the Spice Girls managed only 4 top ten hits…and “Viva Forever” was never even released as a single) is uncertain, though my guess is it won’t be pretty.

Spice Girls Musical Launches – But Will It Last?

Ginger, Sporty, Scary, Posh, and Baby Spice all reunited in London yesterday for the launch of Viva Forever, the long-awaited Spice Girls musical. It will open at the Piccadilly Theatre on 11 December 2012 following the abrupt (if justified) closure of Ghost the Musical, with previews beginning 27 November.

The event yesterday followed months of rumours that infighting amongst the band might pull the plug on the project altogether. Melanie Chisholm (“Sporty Spice”) and Melanie Brown (“Scary Spice”) in particular took to Twitter this month to vent their frustrations at not performing as part of the Queen’s Jubilee Concert despite being asked, prompting speculation that Victoria Beckham (“Posh Spice”) was holding the group back from performing, instead focusing on her own fashion labels. They were also rumoured to have been offered a slot as part of the Olympics Ceremonies, but their participation has yet to be confirmed or denied.

Melanie Brown in particular did nothing to squash rumours of a Spice Girls spat yesterday. In response to being asked what she viewed the Spice Girls’ legacy to be, she said they were the biggest band in the world “until Geri quit,” prompting an embarrassed Geri Halliwell (“Ginger Spice”) to apologise. Later, Mel B. said of watching workshops of Viva Forever that the cast members “sing our songs better than us,” much to the chagrin of her stunned bandmates.

Though fans of the Spice Girls will no doubt be thrilled to see their songs on a West End stage, others have grumbled that the jukebox musical fad is fading fast. Indeed, as opposed to more long-standing bands like ABBA and Queen, whose tunes inspired Mamma Mia! and We Will Rock You respectively, it is difficult to name enough Spice Girls songs to fill a musical soundtrack. After releasing their debut smash-hit “Wannabe” in June 1996, Halliwell left the band less than two years later in May 1998. They released just two original albums as a group, and though the remaining four members did release a third album in 2000. Their reunion in 2007 spawned a sell-out worldwide tour, but even this was cut short amidst rumours of the girls’ clashing egos.

The far-fetched plotline of Viva Forever! is also quite worrying in its reliance on cheese factor. It will focus on a young girl named Viva, who is adopted by a pushy stage mother and lives on a houseboat (!). She successfully auditions for a reality television show and is teamed up with three other girls. They become fast friends, of course, until only Viva makes it through to the show’s finale. She must then faces the tough decision between her new friends or fame and fortune. We certainly know which the real Spice Girls would pick.

Perhaps the saving grace of the production will be its writer, Jennifer Saunders, whose consistently hilarious scripts have made iconic sitcom Absolutely Fabulous a longer-lasting remnant of the 90’s. The show first premiered in 1992 and ran for five series, with one-off television specials airing as recently as this year. Saunders displayed her trademark wit at yesterday’s launch by claiming the Spice Girls had been trying to get her to be their sixth members for years, before admitting it was she who approached them to join the project.

Also working on Viva Forever! will be producer Judy Craymer, the brains behind Mamma Mia! After revealing she was approached by the Spice Girls’ manager, Simon Fuller, Craymer demonstrated enthusiasm for the project and hopes to strike gold twice after producing both the musical and film versions of Mamma Mia!, with the latter becoming the highest-grossing British film of all time.

What do you think of the Spice Girls Musical? Will it be great or garbage? Leave your comment below.

 


 

The Wah Wah Girls, Peacock Theatre

As the eyes of the world turn to London in advance of the Olympics, the World Stages festival seeks to celebrate the capital city’s diversity, with mixed results so far. Its latest offering, The Wah Wah Girls, seeks to celebrate the diversity of the capital city with this vibrant musical set in the East End. Though the book and casting are both uneven, there’s no denying the cast’s exuberance and stellar choreography salvage the production.

Bindi (a hilarious Rina Fatania), a middle-aged housewife sits down to watch a Bollywood-style film and soon becomes a part of the story, weaving in and out of the action with her plush leather armchair on wheels. Soraya (Sophiya Haque) has emigrated to London from India and set up a dancing club, specialising in traditional Mujra techniques as performed by her squad of young, glamorous girls. After fleeing from her controlling brother in Leeds, talented Sita (Natasha Jayetileke) joins the troupe, attracting the eye of Soraya’s management-minded son Kabir (Tariq Jordan). She soon invokes Soraya’s ire by encouraging the girls to pursue more Westernised dancing styles, setting off an overly complicated chain of events that culminate in dramatic reveals and inexplicable plot developments.

Tanika Gupta’s simplistic book and lyrics let down the production severely, being so riddled with clichés they have the audience laughing for all the wrong reasons. Though Fatania, Haque, and Jayetileke are all standouts, the rest of the cast struggles with the “triple-threat” demands of a musical. As Polish builder Pavel, Philip Brodie is unable to demonstrate one let alone all three of the skills required, and his accent frequently fluctuates between Warsaw and Washington. With underdeveloped sets and just 14 actors to create a series of large-scale dance numbers, Emma Rice’s production does seem like Bollywood on a budget.

Choreographers Gauri Sharma Tripathi and Javed Sanadi are the real stars of the show, with their work perfectly demonstrating the competing dance styles and creating spectacular numbers with few dancers at their disposal. The rousing dances coupled with the personality and talent of the three female leads make it impossible not to get carried away by the show’s charm. It’s clear to see that despite its technical limitations, this production has plenty of heart to make up for it.

Where I sat: Dress Circle B28-29. The Peacock Theatre is quite small, and there were no visibility problems, but these seats had the most limited legroom I’ve experienced in the West End and made for an uncomfortable experience. The stalls have considerably more legroom than the Circle.

Recommended: An enjoyable but rough-around-the-edges evening, this is a must for Bollywood fans.

Written on the Heart, Duchess Theatre

 

For all their international acclaim, some still view the Royal Shakespeare Company as a faintly elitist organisation, obsessively studying Renaissance texts in an ivory tower in Stratford and not giving much thought to the modern world. The company does little to dispel that notion with their latest West End offering, Written on the Heart. Despite a strong cast and solid staging by director Gregory Doran, it ultimately lacks the heart its title attempts to grasp at.

David Edgar’s play concerns the construction of the King James Bible and the competing factions who wanted a say in its translation. Its episodic structure is set in three tumultuous years over an 80 year-span. First, we are introduced to Lancelot Andrewes (Oliver Ford Davies), the Bishop of Ely who must lead debate over contentious biblical passages in 1610, then we flash back to 1536 as William Tyndale (Stephen Boxer) is about to be executed for heresy after publishing the first Bible in English, and finally flash forward fifty years where we meet a young Andrewes who is helping tear down the remains of Catholicism in now Protestant Elizabethan England.

All this backwards and forwards works rather well actually, as it breaks up the otherwise tedious debates of the Bible’s content. The scenes set in 1610 are particularly dull, as they draw out what distils into a very simple conflict: some want to fully reject the teachings of the Catholic Church, others feel the Reformation has gone too far. Parallels can easily be made between the crises both the Anglican and Catholic Churchs have recently faced with their respective conservative and liberal sects threatening to create further schisms in the once universal faith. Edgar clearly has a knack for wordplay, which comes across best in the fairly gripping scene between Tyndale and the young cleric (Mark Quartley) who is sent to save his soul. There are even some laughs to be had, and the stodgy bishops coming to terms with David’s proclamation that his love for Jonathan passed his love of women allows for Davies’ matter-of-fact rejection of using the word “delectable” to describe the male object of David’s affection. Still, these moments only briefly lighten what is otherwise an extended history lesson.

Jodie McNee (one of two women amidst a sea of old men in religious robes) gives a standout performance as Mary Currer, the Bishop’s servant, which manages to give the play some weight. As she discovers the vernacular Tyndale Bible with which she learned to read is about to be replaced with a more flowery version, she makes an eloquent case for allowing the book to remain in common English. She rightly assumes that if rewritten as overly-complicated poetry, the Word of God will become the exclusive property of the upper classes to wield as they would like. By not appealing to all, the work will become relegated to the esoteric few. It’s just a shame that, like his predecessors, Edgar was not able to follow his character’s advice.

Where I sat: K15-16 in the Stalls. The Duchess is a fairly small theatre, and every seat in the house has a full view of the stage. There’s not a lot of legroom, though, so I’d recommend taller patrons sit on the aisle.

Recommended: This is well directed and features a strong cast, and it is a good option for people genuinely interested in history. It will probably fail to captivate most people though.