Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Spend, Spend, Spend - Watermill Theatre, Bagnor

Spend Spend Spend
Music: Steve Brown
Book and Lyrics: Steve Brown and Justin Greene

From the book by Viv Nicholson and Stephen Smith
Director: Craig Revel Horwood
Reviewer: Jim Nicholson

How often do you get the chance to review a two times Olivier winning show featuring the life story of your very own Auntie and Uncle. Despite the family link, and the fact I saw the 1999 original West End version eight times and then made a number of visits to the follow up 2001 national tour, please do not think for one moment that I would be biased in any way at all with regard to this “fabulous” night out at the Watermill Theatre to see this “fantastic” version of Spend Spend Spend.

Seriously though, Craig Revel Horwood has done it again as for the third year running he has taken a London juggernaut of a show and Water(Mill)imetered it. After downsizing with such success both Martin Guerre and Sunset Boulevard, our Director has done the same with the Viv Nicholson “pools winner, pools spender” story. Unlike the previous two hits though, where he utilised the intimacy of this lovely Berkshire theatre to home in on one hundred percent emotion, he has this time used the same "in your face" space to ensure each and every member of the 150 strong audience is hooked with every comic line and movement in such a way that you just do not miss a thing as laughter fills the air for very nearly the full 125 minutes of this performance.

Just as in the West End where Rachel Leskovac stole the show as Young Viv, the stand out star here is unquestionably Kirsty Hoiles in that same “common as muck” rags to riches and back to rags story. Kirsty manages to captivate you with her vulgar, sexually explicit, couldn't give a **** attitude whilst also somehow gaining sympathy for her lousy choice of "men" whilst all the time delivering word and belting out song in a perfect Castleford accent. I have not seen much of Kirsty before but she is certainly a name I will follow in the future.

Viv, despite five husbands, only had one real love in her life and, second down the aisle, Keith is yet another lovable "badun". Greg Barnett, fresh from success in Zorro, gives the character warmth and depth from being the naïve "boy next door" right through to "curing" his alcoholism via the love of a canary before his untimely death on the way to Wetherby races.

Narrated by Karen Mann as the older and wiser Viv the show moves so quickly from song to song and scene to scene there is no loss of focus at all, so much so that there is not any distraction actor musician wise. One of the real strengths of the show is that our “big winner” pulls no punches as far as where the mistakes were made and they were nearly all hers.

The set, designed by Diego Pittarch, is most unusual, even for the Watermill, with the back half of the stage closed off by a large electronic garage door which makes a change from a curtain I suppose. A number of backdrops are projected onto the door and when opened a cleverly designed bar is revealed that can go the width of the stage for the pub scenes or fold back to a much smaller size for the many "house parties".

Revel Horwood was nominated for an Olivier for his original choreography on this show in 1999 and he does not hold back here despite the lack of stage space. His choreographic skills are no better highlighted than in the Spend Spend Spend number when the full cast, nearly all dressed as bunny girls with boxer shorts, give us a superbly funny "Bruce Forsyth led" cheque presentation routine in which the male bunnies may prove they are not yet ready to become Cagelles but are certainly fleet footed to say the least. Special mention here to Susannah Van Den Berg who, as the token female bunny, hops to the centre of the fun with a series of facial expressions that even Marty Feldman would have been proud of.

This musical may not have the strongest score ever written (although it certainly does have its moments) and, in amongst our cast, we may not have the greatest voices heard on stage but Stephen Brown and Justin Greene have given us one hell of a strong book. They appear to have utilised their vast TV experience with the likes of Jasper Carrott, Smith and Jones, Alan Partridge (Stephen was the one and only Wayne Ponder, before he was sacked), to ensure that any show short comings are firmly papered over by sheer comic quality.

This is a night out when both at the interval and again at the end of the show you will leave the auditorium with a feel good feeling that will last for some time to come. Oh and by the way the bit about Keith and Viv being relations of mine was totally made up, but there again I am in training for a job with the Sun.

Photos: Robert Day
Spend, Spend, Spend runs at the Watermill until Sat 29th August.
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