Thursday, April 25, 2013

The Ham Funeral

The Ham Funeral runs at the New Theatre from April 23-May 25 2013. By Patrick White, directed by Phillip Rouse.

The Ham Funeral is an expressionist play written in 1948 and first performed in the 1960s, but it reminded me of nothing so much as William Wordsworth’s 1802 preface to the Lyrical Ballads. In this preface, Wordsworth talks at length about how he wants to be a poet of the people. He talks about how poetry should be something the common man should enjoy, thus getting closer to the essential passions of humanity. He eschews intellectualism and champions the triumph of nature over art, choosing not to rely on “poetic diction” but to use common language that everyone can understand.

I should probably add here that I hate Wordsworth’s poetry, and I think that he fails in his project. I devoted a considerable amount of time in my undergraduate career arguing that his poems were banal and smug (and I defy anyone who has read Expostulation and Reply and The Tables Turned to disagree with me). Unfortunately, The Ham Funeral reminded me of him in the wrong ways. One of the things I dislike most about Wordsworth is the way he claims that he wants to make poetry for everyone and yet he still elevates the figure of “the poet”: he wrote in the preface to Lyrical Ballads that the poet possesses a “more comprehensive soul” than other people. The main figure in The Ham Funeral, a poet (Rob Baird) reminded me a great deal of Wordsworth, desperately trying to get close to real life but still holding himself apart, imagining himself to exist in an artistic, intellectual world, where he both thinks and feels more deeply than everyone else. I think it would have been possible for me to dislike the main character, a poet, and still be engaged in the play, but unfortunately it did not turn out that way.

(I also think it’s interesting that The Ham Funeral reminds me so much of Wordsworth, that champion of simplicity, when it was controversially rejected from the Adelaide Festival in the 1960s for being too difficult. I'm not sure what the implications of that are, but it's interesting.)

The Ham Funeral is inspired by William Dobell’s painting The Dead Landlord. It is set in a boarding house run by the Lustys (Zach McKay and Lucy Miller), where that oh-so-reminiscent-of-Wordsworth poet lodges. He is apparently trying to experience real life so he can immortalise it in his poetry, but finds himself in somewhat over his head when the landlord dies and he finds himself mired in a tangled web of relatives, muse, and landlady. His artistic, intellectual world clashes with the fleshier, more visceral world of the aptly-named Mrs Lusty as she tries to seduce him. The web of genre is likewise tangled: there are elements of the Gothic, poetry, bildungsroman, something vaguely Dickensian, with a soupçon of something a little like The Sorrows of Young Werther.

The script is, if nothing else, unusual, and as someone who is interested in narratology and genre theory and that kind of thing, I found its strange mix of genres very intriguing. However, overall, I found this show, like its protagonist, dull and kind of self-important. White’s script is a tragicomedy, and while there were some laughs from the audience, for me, this production felt so desperately earnest that the comedy was mostly lost. There’s a poem by Wordsworth called To Joanna, where he takes a girl (not coincidentally called Joanna) up to the top of a mountain, has one of his I’m-communing-with-nature-look-at-me-I’m-a-poet-I’m-so-awesome moments, and she laughs her arse off at him. I’d like to say the protagonist was Wordsworth, because then it would okay to laugh at him. That would make the landlady Joanna, and the exploration of the class and intellectual tensions between them could be much more engaging. (Neither the poet nor the landlady’s worldview is endorsed in this play: they achieve, at best, an uneasy truce.)  Unfortunately, however, the show is Wordsworth, dull and self-important, taking itself way too seriously, making me feel like Joanna. I felt like the comic elements – some of the vaudevillian stuff, for example – were glossed over. The overall aesthetic was much more realistic, and it ultimately resulted in a kind of dramatic imbalance, the tragic part of tragicomedy outweighing the comedy. Put simply, this show needed to laugh at itself more.

Overall, The Ham Funeral just did not work for me. While there are interesting issues of class and intellectualism explored, the show did not grab my attention. There are definitely intriguing elements, but the show is imbued with a kind of pomposity I did not find especially appealing. I wanted to tell it to loosen up and have some fun. Other people (perhaps those who don’t feel like I do about Wordsworth) might get more out of it than I did, but sadly, this show was not my cup of tea.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Cautionary Tales for Children

Cautionary Tales for Children runs at Merrigong from April 23-4. Based on the poems by Hilaire Belloc, written by Claudia O'Doherty, directed by Naomi Edwards.
There is a lot of potential for fun in Cautionary Tales for Children. Sadly, the show does not live up to it. The performers try their hardest to engage their audience, but ultimately fall short. This show isn't bad, per se - it has some good elements - but overall, it's pretty mediocre.

Cautionary Tales for Children is based on the poems of Hilaire Belloc. Belloc wrote the poems in the early twentieth century and they were intended to be a parody of the cautionary moral tales prescribed to children in the Victorian period. As such, the consequences for misbehaviour were very exaggerated - for example, in one tale a boy wanders away from his nurse and as a direct consequence, is eaten by a lion. In this production, the tales are related through song to the audience by a troupe of time-travelling children (Jolyon James, Sarah Ward, Natalie O’Donnell, and Mark Jones) who preach good behaviour wherever they go. Their time machine is powered by good behaviour, and so the show is based on the premise that they must scare the children into being good via Belloc’s tales.

Unfortunately, despite the best efforts of the cast, the show fails to engage the audience. It’s aimed at kids aged 8-12, but I’m pretty sure that if you took a 12 year old along to this, they wouldn’t be very impressed. In terms of tone, it seemed to be aimed at a much younger audience. Considering that the poems were originally written for adults, this isn’t a particularly good decision. The show gets caught somewhere in the middle. It’s hard to judge how effective kids’ theatre is when you’re an adult, but the kids in the audience really didn’t seem to be responding to the show. They responded when they were asked to – screamed when they were asked to scream, for example – but otherwise, they were almost silent throughout, which seemed to me that either a) they weren’t that engaged, or b) they were really, really well-behaved. And if it’s the latter, well... that kind of defeats the point of the show.

I also think the show had structural problems which made it hard for the audience of kids to relate to it. The main characters are neither co-conspirators with the audience nor antagonists – they exist somewhere in between. Perhaps a commitment either way here would have made the show stronger. As it was, the characterisation felt a little muddled and confused. I felt at the beginning that the interludes between the poems might be the most compelling part of the show, but it quickly became a little self-indulgent and waffle-y. And maybe it’s just me, but they all had a kind of creepy, Child Catcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang-esque vibe about them which I don’t think was intended.

The poems themselves are a little dated, but I think they could have been made relevant to and fun for a kids’ audience. This show, sadly, does not do it. (I’m also sad that they didn’t include the Belloc poem about the boy who cried so much it ruined his political career, but I get why they didn’t.) They get lost in the song: sometimes the music is so complex it’s hard to actually make out the words and thus follow the cautionary tale.

I want to end this review on a positive note. The set for this show (designed by Jonathon Oxlade, last seen on Wollongong stages in School Dance) is absolutely awesome. It’s practical, functional, and has a really appealing aesthetic. Five stars for the set. The rest of the show...? Not so much.


Friday, April 19, 2013

The Bull, The Moon, and the Coronet of Stars

The Bull, The Moon, and the Coronet of Stars runs at Merrigong from April 19-27, Griffin Theatre from May 2-June 8, and Hothouse Theatre from June 13-22. By Van Badham, directed by Lee Lewis.

In 2005, the first titles in the Canongate Myth Series were published. In these books, contemporary authors took ancient myths and reimagined them for modern audiences. Margaret Atwood took the Odyssey and created the Penelopiad, which focused on Odysseus’s wife Penelope as she waited faithfully for him for twenty years. Jeanette Winterson revised the story of Atlas and Heracles in Weight. Michael Faber retold the story of Prometheus in The Fire Gospel. I could go on – there are a bunch of titles.

I’m not sure if the series is still ongoing, but regardless, Van Badham’s play The Bull, The Moon, and the Coronet of Stars would fit right in. A retelling of the story of Ariadne, her relationship with and eventual abandonment by Theseus, and her eventual union with Dionysus, it is ambitious, lyrical, fierce, and beautiful.

I am an absolute sucker for shows with small casts and romantic plots. Shows that number among my favourites from the last couple of years include Midsummer (a play with songs) and This Year’s Ashes, as well as the most recent show I wrote about, Once. However, this is not a formula to ensure I’ll automatically like a show, as my somewhat vitriolic reaction to Sex With Strangers demonstrates. In this genre, The Bull, The Moon, and the Coronet of Stars is an absolute standout for me. It does what all good romantic stories should do: it tells a small story, because what smaller, more intimate story is there than one of a connection between two people? and then it makes that small story universal. In this show, this is particularly pronounced, because that small story becomes myth, the characters at once modern, relatable people, and kings and gods and princesses.

(Because the story of Ariadne, Theseus, and Dionysus is a relatively well known myth, I’m going to assume some degree of familiarity with the story here. I don’t think this is hugely spoiler-y, but if you really, really don’t want any, you might want to stop reading now.)

Our Ariadne is Marion (Silvia Colloca), an artist, who meets her Theseus, Michael (Matt Zeremes) when she works in a museum. Their love is hidden, so hidden neither is really aware of it, but it is still powerful, passionate, and transgressive enough to manifest in the form of a Minotaur. From an academic-history-of-love perspective, the love story told here is like one you find in pre-modern romances, before love was domesticated: love, passion, and desire are dangerous, destructive, devastating. Love is a wild force that destroys rather than creates. This is mirrored in the language. It is so easy to get swept away on the tide of words that Badham unleashes, just like Marion and Michael get swept away by their passion. This is an incredibly difficult script – the diegetic form, as well as the fact that the dialogue of both characters overlaps, particularly in one very memorable section between Marion and Michael in the museum, requires incredible precision and cooperation. Colloca and Zeremes are absolutely masterful. Director Lee Lewis has managed to ensure that neither actor is overwhelmed by the other: in this piece, where getting swept away is so easy, she has maintained a truly remarkable balance.

This is true both of the section with Marion and Michael and the section with Marion and Mark (also played by Zeremes). (The structure of The Bull, The Moon, and the Coronet of Stars is a little like To The Lighthouse: two long sections separated by one short, transitional section in the middle.) Mark is a very different character to Michael – he is much funnier, much freer, far less repressed – and it would be easy for Marion and her pain to get a little lost in the wake of his shiny-brightness, but the balance is maintained beautifully. After the overwhelming passion Marion felt for Michael, it seems almost impossible not only to us but to Marion that she will ever love again. In technical terms, her relationship with Mark faces its point of ritual death, the moment where it seems like it can never happen, before it even begins. But theirs is a different kind of love, and a different kind of story. This is not the destructive passion of pre-modern romance. This is a more modern love. It grows slowly, warmly. There is no explosive eruption of passion like there was with Marion and Michael. Instead, there is just a moment of tenderness: a small moment, with mythological proportions.

If it’s not obvious, I not only really, really liked this play but found it incredibly interesting from an academic perspective, what with love, romance and all that jazz kind of being my thing. I’m fascinated by the way romance is represented on the stage. I have an academic piece about this percolating in my mind in which I think this play is going to feature, so if you’re like, “Jodes! tell me more about how The Bull, The Moon, and the Coronet of Stars is located in the literary history of love!” you might get your wish. But I’ll stop talking about that now and talk a little about the actual production values before I finish. I’ve already mentioned what a superb job director Lee Lewis and actors Silvia Colloca and Matt Zeremes have done, but I’d like to reiterate it. Van Badham has created an absolutely exquisite script, but it’s also an incredibly difficult one, and it is staged with such restraint and such respect for the poetic, luxuriant language. Colloca is at her best when she shows us the rawness of Marion’s heartbreak. Zeremes’s transformation from intense, repressed Michael to wild, open Mark is amazing. The set is simple and functional (I’ll be really interested to see how it translates between spaces, actually) and Lewis has used it to create a rich imaginary world in which this small-but-universal story takes place.

The Bull, The Moon, and the Coronet of Stars is simply a beautiful piece of theatre. Its layers of language are lyrical and lush. It is a little story that becomes a large one not just because of its connection to myth but because that small moment – that small moment of connection with another person – is something that is universally relatable. It is tragic and funny, sad and uplifting, raw and hopeful, heartbreaking and heartwarming. Go and see it. You won’t regret it.

Thursday, April 18, 2013


Once has been playing at the Phoenix Theatre on Charing Cross Road since March 2013. Book by Enda Walsh, music by Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová, directed by John Tiffany.

I should start with this with a disclaimer: the movie Once is my favourite movie in the world. I must have seen it at least twenty times since it first came out in 2006, and I love it to bits. I love that it’s a small story – a fragile story, an ephemeral one, a platonic romance that does not end but is perhaps unfinished. I love that it doesn’t try to be about everything but is just about one thing: these five days in the lives of these two people.

And so I was apprehensive about seeing the musical, and I seriously questioned whether or not I wanted to do it. The musical, as a genre, is not suited to the small story. Everything about musicals is big and exaggerated and stylised, and so I was really, really worried that seeing it on stage might ruin the movie for me.

I needn’t have worried. This is probably the best musical I have ever seen in my life.

It reminded me not so much of the traditional musical but of Midsummer (a play with songs), which toured Australia from Glasgow last year and was probably one of my favourite shows of 2012. Once, translated to the stage by playwright Enda Walsh (who wrote The New Electric Ballroom, also seen on Sydney stages last year), is not so much a musical but a play with songs. I wrote in my review of Viva Forever that there’s an argument to be made linking the structures of the musical and pornography, songs functioning as climaxes, linked together by a veneer of plot. That doesn’t happen in Once. Instead, the songs arise very naturally out of the plot. The focus is not on the music but on how the two lead characters, the Guy (Declan Bennett) and the Girl (Zrinka Cvitešić) are changed by their music, how they fall in love through music. Music is a thread that runs through the show rather than being the reason the show exists. Both writer Enda Walsh and director John Tiffany write in the program about the need to find a new theatrical language to translate Once from screen to stage, and they certainly succeed. This show is just gorgeous.

It’s not exactly like the movie. It’s lost some of that sense of ephemerality, of fragility. It’s more robust: there’s less sense that either the Guy or the Girl could disappear out of the others’ life with no warning at all. The Girl is far more aggressive figure than she was in the film – she drives the action much more than any other character. But these are not necessarily bad changes – they are, as Walsh and Tiffany wrote, translations. The subtleties of the film would not translate on the West End stage. Walsh and Tiffany have found a way around this that doesn’t involve massive dance numbers and glitter cannons. (There is a little bit of dancing. It’s probably the weakest thing in the whole show. It doesn’t need it. It stands alone.) There is also a little more focus on some of the surrounding characters. This didn’t necessarily work for me all the time – particularly at the beginning of the second act, when there seemed to be a lot of messing around with the secondary characters before the focus was shifted back to the Guy and the Girl – but I understand why they did it.

One thing that particularly appeals to me about Once is actually a really nerdy literary criticism thing. A major plot point revolves around the Guy’s music: he’s written all these songs for another girl, but they take on new meanings when he meets the Girl. He actually explicitly tells her that the meaning for him is different now, because he’s singing them for her. I love this idea of the flexibility of text: meaning isn’t fixed or rigid, but adapts and shifts, even for the same reader. (I might have just been talking about this a lot at a conference I was at the week before, so it was on my mind – it was kind of gratifying to see it endorsed on stage.) Once is kind of the perfect text to explore this with, because it’s so ambiguous. Do they end up together? Is their love romantic or platonic? Is it a love story that ends sadly or is just unfinished? Will they ever meet again? The text doesn’t tell you. You get to decide. For everyone, Once is a little bit different, and in every viewing, it’s a little bit different again. The theatre, that most transient of art forms, becomes the perfect venue for Once.

Not all the songs from the film make it to the musical. I was sad not to hear Lies and Fallen From The Sky, but I also wouldn’t have wanted them to shoehorn them in when there wasn’t room for them. There’s also a couple of new songs that are just gorgeous (especially Sleeping) and amazing interpretations of older songs: the a capella version of Gold is just astoundingly beautiful. I was a little worried that the music wouldn’t seem the same without Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová, but the cast is phenomenal. Bennett and Cvitešić have amazing chemistry. They have a moment at the end of the Act One which is just spine-tinglingly good. The Guy has just sung Gold at an open mic night, and he looks across at the Girl, and the lights are just on them for a moment before they go down for interval, and... wow. Chills. CHILLS.

I could rave about how much I loved this show for a long time more, but it might get embarrassingly gush-y, so I’ll stop here. If you are in London, go and see this show. Just go. It is charming and funny and tragic and romantic and just incredibly, incredibly lovely.

And also it has an on stage bar. I don’t know what more you could ask for.

Say It With Flowers

Say It With Flowers runs at the Hampstead Theatre until May 4, 2013. By Gertrude Stein, directed by Katie Mitchell.

Say It With Flowers. Maybe instead of reviewing this show in my usual manner, I should just draw a picture of a flower and make that my response. It would probably make about as much sense as the actual show.

There’s some real novelty at work in this performance – the fact that it’s played in promenade, for one, so that the audience follows the actors from room to room – but I’m not sure that there’s more than that novelty. Say It With Flowers takes some frankly obtuse texts from Gertrude Stein and attempts to impose meaning on them via performance, and I just don’t think it works. Oh, in some places it does: I don’t think it’s any accident that the third section of the show, which has a compressed version of the conventional theatrical five act structure as well as clearly defined characters, works the best. But overall? If someone was to say to me, “hey Jodes, you saw Say It With Flowers, right? what was it about?”, I’d be hard-pressed to come up with an answer.

If I thought about it, I’d probably say “waiting”, an idea which seems to be a common thread throughout the piece (albeit a fraying thread). Everyone in this show is waiting in some way or another. The people in the first section are waiting for a fifth person to sit at their table, simultaneously intrigued and terrified at the prospect. In the second, the protagonist has been bitten by a viper and does not do what to do next, trapped in a kind of hysterical waiting state. And in the third section, waiting itself becomes a kind of pleasure, anticipation better than the events themselves.

But what does this add up to in the end? Waiting is complicated and confusing and sometimes scary and sometimes nice? Surely there is a better message than that. I felt a little like I did in the Gorky play yesterday, like the meaning had gone over my head (not a pleasant feeling for a theatre critic, let me tell you, especially experienced two nights in a row). This show was just plain weird. There were, however, some great performances. I don’t normally commend actors for remembering their dialogue, because, come on, that’s perhaps the most basic skill of acting, and if you can’t expect actors to know their words then what can you expect?, but in this case, I’ll make an exception, because remembering Gertrude Stein must be heinously difficult. (This is particularly true if you’ve ever seen Stein written – her punctuation is peculiar, to put it politely.) The ensemble did a great job with some truly bizarre material. Their ability to change character quickly and seamlessly was especially impressive.

But at the end of the day, this show was just strange. There’s not much more I can say about it. Worth seeing for the novelty of the promenade set, but... well, here’s a picture of a flower. ---<-@

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Children of the Sun

Children of the Sun runs at the National Theatre in London until 14 July 2013. By Maxim Gorky, adapted by Andrew Upton, directed by Howard Davies.

This isn’t going to be a long review, because I don’t know quite what to say about the National Theatre’s production of Maxim Gorky’s Children of the Sun (adapted by Andrew Upton – even here in London, I cannot escape the reach of STC). On the one hand, it was visually spectacular: Bunny Christie’s set is probably the most detailed and certainly the most explosive I have ever seen. On the other hand... to what end? I spent a long time wondering what I came out of the play with, and I’m not sure I came out with anything, except maybe a bit of self-doubt.

This is one of those shows that makes you go, “hang on, did I get it?” It made me wonder if there was there some point that everyone else in the audience was marvelling at that had sailed clean over my head. I’m pretty sure this was not the case – “what’s it about?” I heard one woman ask another at interval, with the response, “fucked if I know” – but still, I spent a lot of time wondering what I was missing.

As far as I could tell, this play was just plain... boring. Especially the first half. It started to get interesting and dynamic in the scene where everyone starts throwing eggs, but this is nearly at the second act of a four act play, so COME ON, guys. I know Gorky’s part of that Russian school of drama which is all terribly domestic and subtle, where a lot can be happening in subtext and not very much in text, but if there were INTENSE CHARACTER INTERACTIONS AND DRAMA OMG happening somewhere, they were buried so far beneath the text that it was almost invisible: subtext in the sense of “subterranean”. While this is certainly not one of Gorky’s best works, I don’t think the blame can be laid at his door here, at least not entirely. Nor is it Upton’s fault in the adaptation (though it could stand some red-penning – I think it needs to be about twenty minutes shorter at least). I think it’s direction and, more particularly, acting. The ensemble couldn’t seem to make up their mind whether to play it strictly realistic or to launch themselves into melodrama. The show was at their strongest when an actor strongly committed one way or another – perhaps the strongest scene in the whole show is when Melanea (Lucy Black) throws herself at Pavel’s (Geoffrey Streatfeild) feet and confesses to him that she didn’t read his books, she licked them. Black goes totally OTT here and it works brilliantly. As a whole, however, there was a sort of indecision from the cast, which I have to think comes from the director (can I be accused of treason for saying that about Howard Davies? probably). It wasn’t so much subtle as confusing.

One final note, before I break my promise to make this review short (short by my standards, anyway). I did see this show in its first preview, so it’s possible that a lot of these kinks will get worked out and everything will settle down and be splendid. I do sincerely hope, however, that the National Theatre finds a way to ensure that the fire alarm doesn’t go off at the end of every performance.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Viva Forever

Viva Forever has been running at the Piccadilly Theatre in the West End since 2012. Based on the music of the Spice Girls. Book by Jennifer Saunders, directed by Paul Garrington.

So it’s been a little quiet around here lately, because I’ve been overseas. By day, I’m an academic, and I’ve been travelling the world talking about popular romance fiction and Fifty Shades of Grey. But there’s no way I’d circumnavigate the globe and not manage to squeeze in a little theatre! I was so busy in the week I was in the USA that I didn’t get a chance to see anything, but now I’m in the UK and my conference is over, so my first stop was the West End.

In retrospect, maybe the cheap tickets were a giveaway that this was not exactly going to be the greatest musical experience of my life. I should have remembered that I don’t particularly like jukebox musicals. But I was 11 when Wannabe first hit the charts in the 1990s – the exact right demographic – and I loved the Spice Girls sick, so when I got the chance to see Viva Forever at a ridiculously tiny price, I took it.

There’s an argument to be made that the structure of the musical is very similar to the structure of pornography: a thin plot connecting together the climactic moments that are the songs. In a good musical, you don’t notice – often because the plot isn’t quite as flimsy, or the songs build to some kind of crescendo rather than seeming to proceed by small algorithmic variation. You get swept away by it, rather than simply waiting for the next song. This is perhaps a large part of why I don’t really like jukebox musicals, because waiting for the next song – for those familiar lyrics – is the attraction, and the story is the distraction. It’s not a narrative form that particularly appeals to me, and sadly, it’s exactly what Viva Forever does.

Viva Forever is set against the backdrop of a reality TV show called Starmaker, one of the many descendants of Simon Cowell’s Idol format. Viva (Hannah John-Kamen), Holly (Dominique Provost-Chalkley), Diamond (Lucy Phelps), and Luce (Siobhan Athwal) have formed the girl group Eternity, quite obviously a knockoff version of the Spice Girls, and have been put through to the next round (whatever that next round is – I was never quite clear on the show’s structure). They swear, in true Spice Girls fashion, to be BFFs forever, but disaster strikes when their TV mentor Simone (Sally Dexter) announces that the group cannot proceed, and that she will choose one of them to continue in the competition as a solo artist. She chooses Viva, and the other girls must leave. Inevitably, the friendship that seemed unbreakable begins to fracture as Viva is catapulted towards stardom and her friends are left behind.

I think the reason I felt so let down by this show, despite the fact I already knew coming in that the jukebox musical format did not appeal to me, was because Jennifer Saunders wrote the book, and damn it, I expected more from her. Viva Forever felt very clumsy and crowded. There’s a whole side plot to do with Viva’s mother Lauren (Sally Ann Triplett), her almost-boyfriend Mitch (Simon Slater), and her friend Suzi (Lucy Montgomery, who plays the role with obvious shades of Joanna-Lumley-as-Patsy in Absolutely Fabulous). And then there’s the whole apparatus of the Starmaker show: the three judges, ageing Simone, desperately trying to reclaim her youth and fame through exploiting Viva, the sleazy Johnny (Bill Ward), and the chavvish, fake-tanned Karen (Tamara Wall), as well as all the related cast and crew. There’s a romance between Viva and MD Angel (Ben Cura) which could have been really sweet, but it’s given no time to develop: it feels very tacked on. Likewise, the story of the girls’ friendship got lost, especially in the second act. There’s just too much going on here. Perhaps Saunders is trying to combat that thing that happens in jukebox musicals where the plot gets really thin, but what’s happened is that instead of having one thin plot, there are about seventeen, all functioning as distractions before the next song starts.

Speaking of the songs... sometimes they just didn’t feel relevant to the plot at all. There are numbers in there which should be showstoppers, and they just aren’t. Angel’s softly sung version of Viva Forever was a lovely moment, and when Mitch and Lauren sang 2 Become 1 to each other in the most awkward sex scene ever, it was genuinely hysterical, but others just didn’t seem to be related to the story. Who Do You Think You Are? for example, felt weirdly misplaced and shoehorned in (especially when it would have worked better earlier in the show). Likewise, Mama – wasn’t feeling it. There’s some great moments (like the scene where the ensemble are all dressed in tearaway costumes and transform from faceless corporate types to Camden leisure pirates), but overall, the pizzazz is missing. While the big dance numbers – Wannabe, Stop, and Spice Up Your Life – were fun, they never inspired that feeling you want to get in musicals: the feeling where your hair stands on end and you almost shiver with delight. It should have been ridiculously easy for the cast to encourage the audience to get up and do the Stop dance at the end of the show. Instead, it was very laboured indeed.

And on the subject of the ending – there wasn’t really one. There was no satisfactory conclusion. The show just stopped. With Stop. (There’s a joke. Right there. The show just walked right into it.)

Maybe I’m going to have to come to terms with the fact that jukebox musicals just aren’t for me. Maybe the form just doesn’t work for me, even in the hands of someone like Jennifer Saunders. But I feel like this show has the material to be a smash hit – and god knows I’d love for something like this, with its many female leads and emphasis on that Spice Girls ethos of friendship and girl power, to take off – and it just doesn’t deliver. And that makes me sad. And it makes 11 year old me, who was devoted to the Spice Girls, even sadder.

(Also, apropos of nothing, there is a dude in the ensemble who looks EXACTLY like Steve Hooker. I kept waiting for him to pole vault over something. Seriously, it’s eerie.)