Theatre Review: Viva Forever!

Date Posted: 13/12/2012

Spice Girls fan, Rachel Bailey couldn't wait to watch new musical, Viva Forever! but left the West End feeling less than spiced up. 

It was with high expectations that I waltzed into the Piccadilly Theatre for the start of Viva Forever! and a sense of loss as I left two and a half hours later.

Firstly, I should let you in on the fact that I was, and still am, a massive Spice Girls fan, so I'm laying my cards on the table from the start.

Written by comedian Jennifer Saunders and based on music from famous girl group, Viva Forever! follows the story of fame-driven female lead Viva, and explores the effects of reality talent contests on young aspiring stars. Viva and her three best friends are in a rebellious girl band and joyfully find themselves on a TV show which is not unlike ITV’s X-Factor.

However, as one would expect, a problem arises when Viva is plucked from the group to continue on the show alone, ditching her friends to pursue fame and fortune. Of course, what makes for good reality TV does not always make for good theatre – the plot is simple and overly predictable, although I did still find it enjoyable.

What follows is the expected emotional arc so loved by many musical writers, although Viva Forever! does get progressively better and I didn't find myself reaching for my watch.

Viva is played by Hannah John-Kamen, whose performances are admirable, but the audience is left wanting more with only a few solo songs showing off her stunning vocals. Viva is not the most likeable character, and perhaps that’s why I found myself constantly drawn to the actions of smaller characters, including Viva’s quirky friend Luce (Siobhan Athwal), Simone’s hilariously awkward assistant Minty (Hatty Preston), and fashion-stylist Leon (Simon Adkins). In fact, it’s a shame they didn’t feature more.

Other key cast members include Viva’s mum, Lauren, played by Sally Ann Triplett, and Viva’s television show mentor, Simone, played by Sally Dexter. Sally Ann Triplett played the part of anguished protective mother very well, and gave a believable performance throughout. Sally Dexter’s character Simone seemed particularly akin to television personality Sharon Osborne, and gave the audience a lot to laugh about with her over-dramatic personality and celebrity tendencies. 

A three-part musical arrangement of songs Mama and Goodbye, sung by Lauren, Simone and Viva was a particularly emotional moment within the light hearted content, and was quite refreshing. Throughout, the three female leads performed up to the expected West End standard, but if you’re looking for a show full of gut-wrenching, heart-stopping solos, you’re in the wrong theatre.

Viva Forever! does have some funny moments, including Lauren and boyfriend Mitch’s rendition of 2 become 1, plus some hilarious innuendos, with several references to current news in the press. There was also a great emphasis put into making the musical a product of its time - that is, there are an abundance of television screens, references to social media sites, and of course, the portrayal of the talent contest and its effect on various people. The interactions of the judges on the show are especially funny, with several witty one-liners and some great stereotyping.

One should not forget that the Spice Girls hits are imperative to the plot, and of course, let’s not dismiss the fact that the show’s popularity is based so far on its association with the 90s girl band and their worldwide success.

The musical highlight for me is the very end of the show (no, not because it was almost finished) when a medley of favourite Spice Girls hits were played, and a fantastic choreographed routine from the whole ensemble was performed with gusto. A finishing iconic shot of Eternity and Lauren in the famous Spice Girls position (different poses, union jack dress in the middle) brings a lump to the throat, for nostalgic reasons more than anything else.

There is always that risk of disliking a musical based on hits from a band or artist, due to the automatic comparison one often makes when hearing a new rendition of an old favourite. Unfortunately, I think my youthful love for the Spice Girls marred Viva Forever! for me, which is a shame because I truly wanted to love it.

So my advice to you is this: if you’re after a fun sing-along production with a few giggles thrown in for good measure, you’re onto a winner with Viva Forever! However, if you’re anticipating a Spice Girls tribute act (which some people in the queue clearly were), a refreshment course in how to become an empowered female, or two and a half hours of magnificent vocal quality, you 'wannabe' getting back on the tube and heading elsewhere.

Viva Forever! is currently booking at the Piccadilly Theatre until 1st June. Performance times are Monday to Thursday at 7.30pm, Fridays at 5pm and 8.30pm, and Saturdays at 3pm and 7.30pm. Group travel organisers can take advantage of discounted tickets when booking for parties of six or more.

For further group travel information visit www.vivaforeverthemusical.com.

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