Go Go Go To Spend Spend Spend

By Sam Smith Last edited 42 months ago
Go Go Go To Spend Spend Spend ★★★★☆ 4

Spend now, regret later: Julie Armstrong as the older Viv Nicholson © Darren Bell

Londonist Rating: ★★★★☆

Spend Spend Spend, the creation of Steve Brown and Justin Greene, is a 1998 musical that reflects on the real life story of Yorkshire housewife Viv Nicholson. In 1961 her husband won £152,319 (around £3 million today) on the football pools, and the piece tells her rags-to-riches-to-rags story as she spends to excess, works her way through five husbands and battles with alcoholism before ending up penniless.

On the surface Viv is not an entirely sympathetic character. She seems a reckless person who never learns from her mistakes, and although some of her later husbands abused her, this would not justify her behaviour towards her earlier ones. Indeed, her first husband’s only ‘crime’ is to be dull and more besotted with her than she is with him.

The musical, however, does make us want to hook into her story by highlighting the context in which she operated. She came from a poor background and abusive family, and was forced to marry her first husband because that was expected when a teenager became pregnant out of wedlock.

The musical is virtually through written, with very little spoken dialogue. In some ways it feels like one single ballad from start to finish, but the cleverness derives from having Viv portrayed both as an older woman who reflects on the past, and as the younger girl to whom everything actually happens. This ensures that the story can be told almost entirely from one person’s viewpoint without ever feeling monotonous or merely self-justificatory.

In the intimate Union Theatre — which last staged the superb Loserville — the drama is played out to strong effect. Christian Durham’s slick production ensures that every last ounce of glitz and excitement is squeezed from feel-good numbers such as ‘Spend Spend Spend’, and also makes us share in every moment of pain as the tragedy unfolds before our eyes. From among the strong cast, Julie Armstrong and Katy Dean as the older and younger Viv stand out as they give feeling and nuanced performances, while on occasions offering up some superb harmony singing.

Until 18 April at the Union Theatre, 204 Union Street, SE1 0EX. Tickets (£17-20): 0207 261 9876 or visit the Union Theatre website.

Londonist saw this show on a complimentary ticket.

Last Updated 02 April 2015