Thursday, 9 April 2015

Theatre review: Spend, Spend, Spend

The second in an unintentional double bill of shows with the same word three times in the title, after Love, Love, Love it's Spend, Spend, Spend at the Union. That was the famous quote from pools-winner Viv Nicholson when asked what she'd do with all the money, and it proved all too true - she spent it all and when we first meet her in Steve Brown and Justin Greene's musical she's working in a beauty salon, having lost everything. The older Viv (Julie Armstrong) narrates her life story as her younger self (Katy Dean) grows up in a Leeds mining community with an abusive, alcoholic father (David Haydn.) First married at 16, it's her second husband Keith (James Lyne) who wins £152,319 on the football pools in 1961, and with rationing still in their memories they go all-out for a life of luxury. It doesn't go down well with their old community in Castleford, but when they move to a wealthier suburb their nouveaux-riche status is greeted with snobbery.

Despite some mishaps their marriage survives, but when Keith dies in a car accident a combination of bad decisions on his part, bad investments on hers, dodgy bankers and husbands three through five leaves Viv back where she started.

Spend, Spend, Spend is a likeable show although it takes a while to come to life - it's more or less through-sung, and like many such musicals its early expositional numbers all blur into one another. It does resolve itself into more big numbers as it goes on though, and the likes of "The Boy Next Door," "John Collier" and "Garforth" make for good showstoppers.

Despite Elle-Rose Hughes' set being dominated by newspaper headlines, Christian Durham's production doesn't really make much of the extent to which Nicholson became tabloid fodder for many years. It also paints her as very much a victim of money-grabbing opportunists on all sides, but as it's based on Nicholson's own autobiography it's perhaps not surprising if she comes out of it smelling of roses - although you'd think getting deported from Malta might be the sort of thing you'd mention in someone's life story.

But even if we're only getting one side of the story there's a strong cast to tell it, with Dean very strong and likeable in the lead role, Armstrong convincingly resigned as her older self looking back. The show as a whole only intermittently sparks into life but when it does it does so enthusiastically.

Spend, Spend, Spend by Steve Brown and Justin Greene, based on the book by Viv Nicholson and Stephen Smith, is booking until the 18th of April at the Union Theatre.

Running time: 2 hours 15 minutes including interval.

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