Saturday, 20 April 2013

Viva Forever!, Piccadilly Theatre, 18/04/13 (evening)

With book by Jennifer Saunders and the music of the Spice Girls, next to production led by Judy Kramer, I'm not really too sure where to start with Viva Forever. It took a bashing from the critics and even after a series of re-writes and long hours devising new parts of the show, I can sadly see why. Nonetheless, I'll begin with some positives, of which there were a few.

For her West End debut, Hannah John Kamen does an incredible job in the lead role of Viva. She has a deceptively powerful voice and beautiful tone that on occasion gave me goosebumps. Her chemistry with Sally Ann Triplett as her mother was believable enough and it is again a credit to her that she was the character I was able to emotionally engage with most. I should also mention that her duet of the title song, Viva Forever, with Ben Cura as Angel, was probably the most stunning part of this entire show. It proved that less is more: simply two great voices and a guitar and the whole audience were gripped. Credit to Musical Supervisor Martin Koch for that inspired arrangement.

There were other parts of it that I enjoyed; mainly the large production numbers of the bigger hits (aside from the ridiculous blow up things in Spice Up Your Life). The choreography was largely very tight too, it seemed, and the cast were clearly working very hard. The pit sounded phenomenal throughout, so hats off to the MD and his team; the sound quality was brilliant and so loud as well; I seem to remember thinking the same coming away from Ghost, the Piccadilly Theatre's previous incumbent.

Other notable performances on the night included Kirstie Skivington, on as Diamond, who was very well suited to her part, being quirky, likeable and also a strong singer. I would have liked to have heard some more of her voice but of course this is not her fault. In addition, Hatty Preston's Minty was great, with impeccable comic timing, but the hash-tag thing began to grate on me towards the end. But as some of the 'comic' efforts in this production go, her moments were always the best. The previously mentioned Sally Ann Triplett and Simon Adkins as Leon did solid jobs too; if anything I thought they were a bit under-used but I can of course see why the focus is largely switched back towards the four girls.

Now for the book. It's just dreadful. Coarse joke after coarse joke after another (etc). Some got laughs, some certainly didn't. I thought Act 1 held up fairly well but about 15 minutes into Act 2 the whole thing just falls apart. It was the first time I've ever felt uncomfortable in a West End theatre. Seated high up in the (near full) Upper Circle, there just reached a point where everyone was looking at each other as if to say, 'what on earth are we witnessing here?'. Cue heads in hands and much muttering and laughing throughout the sparsely thin dialogue that made up the rest of the show. 2 Become 1 and what I will call simply, 'the bed scene', is a cringe-fest. Sally Ann and Simon Slater as Mitch are troopers for having to get through that every night. This is followed by a speaker-blasting 10 minute mega-mix after the quite abrupt end, which is all very well - but it is surely an effort to try and get people to dance away the previous 2 hours' troubles!

I am not going to slag off the actors because I appreciate they all do the best job the can with the material given. But the characters of Suzi, Johnny, Simone, Karen, Lance and to a certain extent, Mitch, I just found so bland and irritating. They added nothing to the story really, and Simone in particular has far too much stage time, however talented Sally Dexter might be. The stereotypes in Johnny and Karen were boring. Lance’s cheeky golf swing a la Dermot O’Leary was the closest he got to emulating a real prime time TV host. Then there’s Suzi who was not so bad in the first half hour; but then her gags took a turn for the worst and most of the groans and cringes were sadly directed at the unfortunate Lucy Montgomery. Incidentally, I also saw far too much of her red thong. Given any chance and it was in full view of even us Upper Circle peasants.

One more thing that has just sprung to mind having nearly finished writing this, is the set: and namely how interesting it was. It is simplistic but very clever; transforming between meeting room, dressing room, house-boat, television studio, swimming pool and bedroom effortlessly. The revolve concept is perfect and scene changes were swift and largely unobtrusive. So it's not all bad news.

The over-arching talent show/sob story concept itself is not a bad one at all but it could have been executed so much better. But it is safe to say, with such a talented cast, I left the theatre disappointed for them: that despite what I am sure is a mammoth effort each night, the end product is largely forgettable.

At this performance, the cast was:
Hannah John Kamen (Viva), Dominique Provost-Chalkley (Holly), Kirstie Skivington (Diamond), Siobhan Atwal (Luce), Sally Ann Triplett (Lauren), Lucy Montgomery (Suzi), Simon Slater (Mitch), Bill Ward (Johnny), Simon Adkins (Leon), Hatty Preston (Minty), Ben Cura (Angel), Sally Dexter (Simone), Tamara Wall (Karen), Anthony Topman (Lance), Charlotte Gorton (Consuela), Myles Brown, Sophie Carmen-Jones, Darren Carnall, Luke Jackson, Rebecca McKinnis, Carla Nella, Zak Nemorin, Roxanne Palmer, Oliver Roll, David Rudin, Helen Ternent, Lucy Thatcher and Charlotte Walcott.

Also in the cast are Lucy Phelps, Curtis Angus, Lia Given and Tom Kanavan.

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