Viva Forever!

Monday April 29 2013 19:30
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Kudos, I suppose, to 'Mamma Mia!' maestro Judy Craymer and writer Jennifer Saunders for successfully draining all the fun out of The Spice Girls' back catalogue with this woeful new musical. It's no mean feat: I was 15 when Baby, Ginger, Posh, Scary and Sporty ramraided the stultified charts of Britpop Britain, and even as a surly teenage Blur fan I found the girls' fizzy, feisty pop immensely refreshing.

'Viva Forever!' is not fun or refreshing, largely because instead of giving us the in-yer-face full arrangements of 'Say You'll Be There', 'Who Do You Think You Are', '2 Become 1' et al, it treats these enjoyable pop ditties as endlessly malleable Dylanesque narratives: chopped and changed and stopped and started, sung out of key and stripped of their bounce in order to further Saunders's rubbishy script.

Hen dos and girls'-night-out crowds will have to wait aeons before they've got anything they can actually sing along to, and even then the slenderness of the Spice back catalogue is made painfully clear – several songs are performed twice, with a baffling three outings for flop 2007 comeback single 'Headlines'.

The story, then, follows the escapades of Viva (Hannah John-Kamen), an unprepossessing young singer who goes on an 'X Factor'-style singing contest with her girlie mates, is forced to carry on as a solo act, misses her mates, misses her mum, then – SPOILER ALERT – reunites with her mum and reunites with her mates.

The odd good line reminds us of 'Ab Fab' mastermind Saunders's past form, but for the most part the blandly cast, blandly sung 'Viva' feels like it was knocked off in about five minutes, a witlessly affectionate homage to reality TV talent shows masquerading under the thinnest veneer of satire.

It's inconceivable that the intended original 'Viva Forever!' director Marianne Elliott – she of 'War Horse' and 'The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time' – would have stood for this, and you only have to look at the just-opened 'The Bodyguard' to see what great direction (from Thea Sharrock) can do for an iffy musical.

'Viva Forever!' is now helmed by Paul Garrington, a longterm Craymer associate whose recent career has largely involved setting up new productions of 'Mamma Mia!' – her sole previous hit – in foreign countries. But 'Mamma Mia!' had a decent script and vast catalogue of Abba songs to draw upon, mostly performed straight. 'Viva Forever!' has an awful script and a small pool of Spice Girls hits to work with, mostly rearranged bafflingly.

A dull, pointless exercise in not giving the people what they really, really want