Upon winning a fortune of £152,000 (today’s equivalent of 3.3m) on the football pools in 1961, Viv Nicholson told the press she was going to “spend, spend, spend.” Her true life rags to riches story and its decline back to rags is chronicled in this musical with book and lyrics by Steve Brown and Justin Greene based on the original book by Viv Nicholson herself and Stephen Smith.
The story both starts and ends in present day, with Viv working in a Hairdressers in Castleford, West Yorkshire. We are transported back to the young, 16-year-old Viv as the story unfurls of her abusive father, poverty to a pools win, five unconventional marriages, fast cars, Fur coats, lots of alcohol and parties and a desperate need to be loved. Spend, Spend Spend does not make Viv as happy as she first thinks it will and causes many other unforeseen problems.
This socially distanced production; rehearsed in Covid safe conditions and following Covid safe regulations; was performed by the final year BA (Hons) Actor- Musician students in collaboration with the students of BA 9Hons) Theatre Production and MA Stage and Production Management programmes, at Guildford School of Acting. These students managed to combine singing, dancing and acting with musicianship and production to create this theatrical storytelling. With music played live by the company and supervised by Paul Herbert, the production was directed/choreographed by Stewart Nicholls.
Spend, Spend, Spend originally opening in the West Yorkshire Playhouse in 1998 and made its West End debut at the Piccadilly Theatre in 1999 before embarking on a UK tour. It won the Barclays Theatre Award for Best Musical of the Year and Barbara Dickson took the Laurence Olivier Award for Best Actress in a Musical. With such credentials and working in Castleford for the last fourteen years I expected to resonate with the musical story more than I actually did.
Unfortunately, lacking in memorable songs, the once, unique story now is a regular occurrence in the news and thus hasn’t aged well without a much needed showstopper. Whilst, he songs are in context with the show, they lack insight. The story is told as a series of anecdotes, linked by older Viv as a narrator, these just about cling together into something approaching a coherent storyline, but it’s all a bit frantic. There are some interesting scenes and some very funny moments, but any real depth is watered down by the episodic nature of the whole piece. The over contrived depiction of ‘Yorkshire men and Castleford Girls’ relies heavily on physical stereotypes rather than accurate regional dialect and vernacular. This was of no fault of the cast as they did an exceptional job with the given script and score.
So, to the Cast – It was delightful to see the ‘quad threats’ on stage. And I was particularly drawn to the Ebba Haastrup in her role as Viv. Her performance was assured, and this young lady has a strong stage presence and command of the space, Her vocal duet; with Georgia-Mae Fox as Young Viv; of ‘Who’s Going to Love Me’ was the highlight of the score and beautifully depicted by both, highlighting the vicious destructive and desperate circle that Viv finds herself in throughout her life. A special mention must go to Benji lord as Keith who was effortless on stage, adding to the subtext of the social era. The cast were seamless in their multiple and speedily changing episodes and they kept the story moving at break neck pace without a weak link.
The staging of the production was splendid, echoing the confusion and chaos in Viv’s life and it was both effectively consuming yet unobtrusive at the same time. It camouflaged the drums and Keyboard that were used to accompany the onstage musicians and gave levels to the stage to separate Viv’s bedroom which plays an important part in the story. The clutter reminding me of the personal baggage and disorder that Viv carried around – Clever and very thought provoking.
I am glad I have experienced this musical and admirable credit must go to the strong and secure cast and creative team, for working tirelessly to make this an enjoyably worthwhile piece of theatre to watch if not a ‘must see show’.
Reviewer: Tracey Bell
Reviewed: 1st July 2021
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★