“I was surprised at how much it affected me”
In 1961, Viv Nicholson won the equivalent of the lottery jackpot on the pools with her husband Keith in Castleford. Spend Spend Spend is a musical that tells the story, adapted from Nicholson’s own book, of how it was subsequently all frittered away, how money doesn’t always bring happiness and certainly doesn’t grant immunity from tragedy. The action is narrated from the perspective of the older Viv, reflecting back on her life as she rebuilds her life in South Yorkshire as a hairdresser. Originated at the Watermill, this actor-musician production is directed by Craig Revel Horwood and is reprising a successful UK tour this year.
Steve Brown’s score is solid, cohesive despite picking influences from a range of English music styles; Diego Pitarch’s design is simple, an effective replication of a Yorkshire pub which flexibly turns into a bedroom when needed; Revel Horwood’s choreography is attractive though not particularly adventurous, but this really is a show where the whole really is greater than the sum of its parts. There’s a perfect confluence of each element, there’s not a huge amount of dancing for example which makes the routine to the title number an absolute blast and lending it a greater impact. And with its straight-forward direction and the no-nonsense approach to life that Viv and Keith espoused, the shows rockets through the ups and downs of life with remarkable candour in its portrayal of a flawed but aspirational woman.
Kirsty Hoiles is simply excellent as the young Viv, rarely off the stage and keeping a warmth about her portrayal, especially in building a great relationship with Greg Barnett’s equally good Keith; there’s no doubting that they are the love of each other’s lives despite their struggles to deal with their new situation. But it is in Karen Mann’s older Viv where the show really finds its heart: sometime narrator, sometime trumpet player, always an observer, there’s an added depth given by the painfully honest recollections, the nostalgic voice of experience, the echoes of half-remembered gestures which beautifully shadow those of her younger self. When the two Vivs eventually duet on the heart wrenching Who’s Gonna Love Me, it is such a touching moment.
As a child, we had what felt like annual trips to see Return to the Forbidden Planet at various theatres as it was one of those shows that really captured the imagination and impressed beyond belief at the way in which all the aspects of the production were seamlessly melded together and it was this show that really sparked the development of actor-musician interpretations of shows which are popping up all over. And as with so many actor-musician shows, one is left admiring the sheer effort on the stage here as multiple instruments are played, countless bit characters portrayed, harmonies sung, playboy-bunny outfits worn…Tom Yeates’ dancing pectorals were predictably enjoyable but Susannah van den Berg and Graham Kent also stood out for me as they all bring across the fierce community spirit that often comes from not having too much spare cash.
The energy of the whole ensemble though, enhanced by their frequent forays down into the stalls to interact amusingly with the audience and the fun interval entertainment, really emphasises the charming spirit and warm emotion of the production which completely won me over (perhaps uniquely in the audience, I had no idea of the story beforehand which definitely helped): spend spend spend a little on catching this show.