Review: Viva Forever!
Viva Forever, the long-awaited musical based around the hits of the Spice Girls, has finally arrived to spice up the West End. For anyone who lived and breathed the Spice Girls in their 90s childhood (and if you didn’t, then you made some poor life choices), this was a much anticipated chance to relive the heyday of girl power
Having bumped into Olympian Louis Smith on my way to the theatre, I was already pretty hysterically excited, which is probably the perfect mood to be in for this musical. Produced by Mamma Mia mastermind Judy Craymer and penned by comedy legend Jennifer Saunders, Viva Forever follows Viva (Hannah John-Kamen), a talent show hopeful and member of a spirited girl group, whose loyalty to her mother and friends is tested as she struggles with overnight fame and the machinations of her mentor (Sally Dexter).
While satirising the evils of a contrived reality show is hardly a new idea, even the caricatures are tackled with such verve that it feels fresh. The plot plays with the themes of the original Girl Power group – friendship, loyalty and fun – but bases little on the band themselves. Perhaps I’m biased, but it felt much more clever and self-aware than Craymer’s previous hit musical.
The audience were buzzing with excitement before the curtain was raised, and a fantastic opening sending up talent show clichés before exploding into the unmistakeable sound of 'Wannabe' sent the atmosphere into fever pitch. The exuberant cast, particularly the band members (Siobhan Athwal, Lucy Phelps, and Dominique Provost-Chalkley), brought irrepressible energy, and portrayed the all-important group dynamic completely believably. I only wish we’d seen more of them – whilst Viva was wonderful, the relationship between the group, particularly during their anarchic rendition of 'Stop', was brilliant, and could easily have borne more time on stage. The ending was pure uplifting joy, even before the obligatory sing-a-long to finish.
The show bears the clear stamp of Saunders, with Sally Ann Triplett as Viva’s mother occasionally resembling Ab Fab’s Eddie, and also in Saunders’ keen eye for humour in the songs - her re-imaginings of Too Much and 2 Become 1 were particular highlights. Overall the Spice Girls’ back catalogue was wrestled into a narrative surprisingly well, and a nice balance was struck between classics, imaginative re-workings and mash-ups, with even some lesser known songs included (although we could have done without 'Let Love Lead the Way'. No one likes that one).
For those of us whose childhood was defined by the Spice Girls, it is undoubtedly one of the best feel-good musicals around. Suffice to say, if the thought of leaping out of your seat to bounce along to 'Spice Up Your Life' fills you with dread, then it’s advisable to steer clear. But the irresistible charm of the lively cast and the enduringly catchy music means it’s hard to walk away from Viva Forever without a huge smile and the urge to listen to 'Wannabe' on repeat. A reminder that no girl band has come close to the iconic hits, charisma and sheer joy the Spice Girls brought, it’s fantastic to have a home for them on the West End – I will definitely be going again.
Viva Forever is at the Piccadilly Theatre, London now. Tickets are available here