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Review of Spend, Spend, Spend at the Union Theatre

Spend, spend, spendEvery week, millions of people gamble. The lottery, bookmakers, PCs. phones and tablets, there are many varied ways of spending money in the hope of winning enough to leave our current lives behind. However, before all of these, there was only one real way to get a life-changing amount of money and that was the football pools. Every Saturday people would watch Grandstand or listen to the radio at 5pm waiting for the results to be read out and if those 8 draws came up for you what would you do? Well, if you get down to the Union Theatre you can find out what happens when you decide the best thing to do with the money is “Spend, Spend, Spend”.

Viv Nicholson (Julie Armstrong) is a famous woman. Customers come to the beauty parlour where she works not necessarily to find the elixir of life, but more to hear the story of one woman’s rags-to-riches-to-rags story. Viv has no problem sharing. She is happy to go back in time to where it all began when her younger self (Katy Dean) was working as a cinema usherette in her home town of Castleford and living with her very traditional parents. Her life was pretty well mapped out. Married as a teenager to Matt for no better reason than he got her pregnant, Viv’s life was going down a well-trodden path until the handsome and sexy Keith (James Lyne) moved in next door. Love blossomed for the two of them and Matt found himself kicked into touch to be replaced by Keith now installed as husband No 2. Keith and Viv lived pretty much hand-to-mouth until one fateful Saturday in 1961 when their luck changed and they won the, at the time, astronomical sum of just over £152,319 (equivalent to around £3M today) and their lives altered beyond all recognition as Viv told reporters exactly what she planned to do with the money.

Basically, Keith and Viv went on a spending spree that astounded their family and friends – old ones who were happy to take a drink from the couple while secretly sneering at their good fortune behind their backs, and new ones keen to climb aboard the Nicholson’s gravy train until the money was gone. Feeling the resentment of the locals, Keith and Viv moved to up-market Garforth where again they had trouble fitting in due to being, as the well-heeled townsfolk call it, ‘new money’. They travelled, spent money like water and lived a lifestyle to make even Bacchus jealous and everyone wondered if the money would make Keith and Viv happy or would their lives come crashing down around their ears?

Steve Brown and Justin Green’s musical “Spend, Spend, Spend” was first performed in 1999 and has spent way too long waiting to come back to London. The story – based on Viv Nicholson’s 1976 autobiography of the same name –  is amazing in its own right. Even as a boy, I had heard of this mad lady who had won the pools and blown it all, and seeing it brought to life in this way, was a real treat for me. Julie and Katy were really magical giving a gripping performance as the two Viv’s. Both on stage for virtually the entire evening, they dominated the show, sometimes old Viv narrating the story and sometimes Young Viv singing alone and, in a wonderful piece of writing, occasionally sharing songs to provide a marvelous link between then and now. The relationship between young Viv and Keith was brilliantly played out by Katy and James who managed to be more than a match for Viv and demonstrated his love for her in so many simple yet heartfelt ways you can understand why the real Viv always referred to him as the love of her life.

The atmosphere of a mining village in the late 50s/early 60s was brilliantly created with songs such as ‘John Collier’ and ‘The Miner’s Arms’. As well as the three leads, the rest of the large multi-talented cast moved about the stage beautifully – thanks to excellent direction by Christian Durham and choreography by Heather Douglas – changing character at the drop of a hat – or the donning of a tabard – to animate the various people moving in and out of Viv and Keith’s lives. Set Designer Elle-Rose Hughes makes fine use of the Union’s limited stage space with the cast moving items in and out as need be to create locations as diverse as a cinema auditorium, living room and even a New York hotel. The show works really well with some fine musical numbers – my favourites were ‘The Boy Next Door’, Who’s Gonna Love Me?’ and of course the highly exuberant title song which brings the first act to a huge musical theatre style end.

Spend, Spend, Spend” is a wonderful example of its theatrical genre. It is a show that tells a human story in wonderful detail and can work well in any venue, so I’m really hopeful a West End transfer is on its way, but just in case a visit to the Union Theatre should be on the cards for any lover of good musical theatre as soon as possible.

4 stars

Review by Terry Eastham

Spend, Spend, Spend
Book and Lyrics Steve Brown & Justin Greene
Music by Steve Brown
Based on the book by Viv Nicholson & Stephen Smith
Directed by Christian Durham
Musical Staging and Choreography by Heather Douglas
Musical Direction by Inga Davis-Rutter
Designed by Olivia Ward
Lighting Design – Tim Deiling

In 1961, Yorkshire housewife Viv Nicholson won £152,319 in the football pools. When a reporter asked her what she planned to do with her new fortune, she replied, “I’m going to spend, spend, spend!” which is exactly what she did. Her rags-to-riches-to-rags-again story takes her through five husbands, expensive sports cars, fur coats, and jewelry, a battle with alcohol, and bankruptcy as, unable to cope with her newfound wealth and fame, she rapidly spirals

Cast: Old Viv – Julie Armstrong, Young Viv – Katy Dean, George – David Haydn, Mother – Kerry Whiteside, Keith – James Lyne, Matt – Tom Brandon.
Ensemble: Charlie Johnson, Jayne Ashley, Christina Meehan, April Sullivan, Sally Firth, Xandy Champken, Adam Colbeck-Dunn, Stuart Simons and Oliver Jacobson

25th March until Saturday 18th April, 2015
Tuesday – Saturday @ 7.30pm
Saturday and Sunday @ 2.30pm

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