December 12, 2012 5:32 pm

Viva Forever!, Piccadilly Theatre, London

Written by Jennifer Saunders, this jukebox musical tries to do for The Spice Girls what ‘Mamma Mia!’ did for Abba
'Viva Forever' (photo: Donald Cooper)

'Viva Forever' (photo: Donald Cooper)

The Spice Girls jukebox musical opened to a virtually all-star audience and a keen irony. Its plot centres on a young protagonist, Viva, who is all but consumed by the fiction factory of an uncaring media franchise. However, engineering a hyperbolical sense of “event” for the press night by cordoning off the street in front of the theatre and so forth demonstrates exactly the same omnivorous mentality. That I found Viva Forever! at all tolerable is a tribute to the craft and assiduity of scriptwriter Jennifer Saunders and producer Judy Craymer.

This is a producer’s rather than a director’s show: Craymer hatched the concept to follow up her earlier success Mamma Mia!. The template of that Abba-based compilation has perhaps been followed rather too closely. Plot devices such as the protagonist’s troubled parentage (Viva has been brought up by a single adoptive mother who shuns conventional society) and the use of an exotic location (in Act Two, the action moves gratuitously to Spain) will strike Mamma-maniacs as more than a little familiar. In addition, Saunders revisits old favourite figures from her TV sitcom Absolutely Fabulous such as the eccentric personal assistant and the bibulous mum’s-best-friend of a certain age.

Paul Garrington’s staging is quite as lively as required, and musical stalwarts such as Sally Ann Triplett as Viva’s mum and Sally Dexter as her reality-talent-show mentor are matched by newcomer Hannah John-Kamen as Viva herself, sundered from her girl-group mates for solo grooming. The plotting is often audaciously unpleasant for a supposedly feel-good experience, repeatedly showing that in televisual terms “reality” is the biggest one-word lie in the language.

What lets it all down are the songs. Lyrically, these numbers make Benny and Björn of Abba (and their co-lyricist Stig Andersson) look like e e cummings; musically, Martin Koch struggles to find any natural dynamic within each number and to maintain a mix of multiple vocals and instrumentation that doesn’t just dissolve into a blur of blare. The implausible, perfunctory ending (which I had predicted but discounted as far too obvious) makes it apparent that even the supposedly central concept of “girl power” is merely a shibboleth to be recited rather than understood and made to live. There is simply too much manipulation in the air of an evening that is what I rarely, rarely want.


www.vivaforeverthemusical.com

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2014. You may share using our article tools.
Please don't cut articles from FT.com and redistribute by email or post to the web.

Life & Arts on Twitter

More FT Twitter accounts
 
SHARE THIS QUOTE