12/12/2012 04:43 GMT | Updated 10/02/2013 05:12 GMT

REVIEW: Spice Girls' 'Viva Forever!' Just Needs More Songs And Some Plot


Fortunately, the world premiere of the Spice Girls' musical certainly had its moments of high drama which kept the audience glued. Unfortunately, none of it was happening on the stage. Everyone in the theatre was watching the Spice Girls (four of them), who were themselves staring at Victoria Beckham, sitting two rows behind with her family, and gazing at the floor. Perhaps she knew something the rest of us didn't.

The songs themselves are well-established, Teflon-coated disco hits, bound to make anyone who had a pulse in the 90s' feel suitably nostalgic. From the first bouncy bass notes of 'Wannabe' all the way through to more soulful renderings of ballads 'Mama' and 'Goodbye', it was time to reach once again for the hairbrush (to sing into, naturally) and start getting ready for a Saturday night - in my head at least.

But, hold on, something far more soulful was being eeked out on stage - something about friendship never ending - except when it immediately does, with the lure of reality show stardom - and being true to yourself, and the first creaks of Jennifer Saunders' storyline began to dampen the party spirit.

It started small, perhaps deliberately, with a plodding first hour dedicated to plot - what happens when a young girl (Viva) abandons her friends and her mother in the search of talent show stardom - and not many songs, the first three barely recognisable as Spice Girls' numbers.

Instead, we got a thinly-written satire about a thinly-disguised 'Starmaker' talent show, whose lead judge - quelle surprise - controls the results. While there is, perhaps, still a market for this cultural arrow-firing, a musical dedicated to the hits of a manufactured band, whose members still happily go on these shows as judges, isn't perhaps the best forum for it.

However, this was a stimulating narrative alternative to what was going on back on the houseboat of Viva and mother Lauren. Turns out Lauren and best friend Suzi are both sex-starved, semi-alcoholic singletons who have a passing trade in one-liners. Sound familiar? Yes, Saunders - perhaps realising there weren't actually enough Spice Girls songs to pad out the two and a half hours required - had resorted to re-creating her most successful comic creations, with some of the show's best lines inevitably going to the wobbly friend Patsy, sorry, I mean Suzi. At the height of Ab Fab's powers, these same lines would have been left on the cutting room floor.

Saunders boasted in the programme of how she'd had to learn the art of the narrative arc, but it felt more like a narrative... well, imagine a golf club lying on its back, seen from the side. The last thirty minutes suddenly exploded with bizarre plot developments, including two romances, whipped up out of nowhere, as well as the inexplicable move of everyone to Spain - presumably, to justify the palm trees and adherence to instructions to 'Spice Up Your Life', performed energetically but with the chorus numbers too sparse in number on the looming stage.

There was a brave decision to take some of the big numbers away from the norm, with a solo male balladeer singing 'Viva Forever' acapella with guitar, and the lush 'Two Become One' performed comically - almost panto-style - by two fumbling, middle-agers. But there weren't really enough songs to go round for some of the band's most popular hits to be squandered like this.

So not enough plot, and not enough songs... hmmm.

The only time the show came to life was, in fact, after it finished, with the whole cast prancing around joyfully to a reprise of 'Spice Up Your Life', played with the volume up, the requisite arms in the air (including the Spice Girls themselves, of course, in resolute cheer-leader mode), and big, conspiratorial smiles to the audience - you love this, too, right?

Which we do. And which kind of makes you wonder why the producers didn't just hire a nightclub and make it a Viva Forever!-themed night, instead of all this hand-wringing nonsense about friendship never ending, and being true to yourself.

These are songs for dance floors, not the aircraft hanger space of what amounted to a big-budget school production, without a hairbrush to sing into in sight.

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