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Spend Spend Spend (Union Theatre)

March 30, 2015

(seen at the afternoon performance on 29th March 2015)

Young Miner’s wife Viv Nicholson won £152,319 (£2.5m today) on the football pools. This 1998 musical charts exactly what happened to the money after she declared that she would indeed, “Spend, Spend, Spend.”

The lowest highs and highest lows of the win are charted over two fascinating hours of story-telling in a quite remarkable production.

As the “older, wiser self” Julie Armstrong produces a stunning performance, with the comedic and character abilities of Julie Walters and the musical theatre presence of Imelda Staunton. Worth the price of admission alone.

Her younger self (Katy Dean) also proves exceptionally adept at the emotional changes the role requires. Naïve cinema “ice-cream” girl, physical and emotional punchbag, lover, alcoholic, mother, celebrity is quite a range, managed with aplomb.

Around them, 13 talented actors manage to cover the widest variety of roles. Of particular note, Oliver Jacobson finds the comedy in each he is assigned, Adam Colbeck-Dunn and Stuart Simons make a menacing pair of financial people and Tom Brandon as Matt makes a triumphant return to the Union Theatre following his hit in “The Beautiful Game” last year.

Director Christian Durham and Choreographer Heather Douglas have come up with a classy staging. The theatre naturally lends itself to intimate moments “Canary In A Cage;” but their triumph is in filling it with huge production number events like “Spend Spend Spend” – a berserk burst of celebrants, gorgeously leggy chorus-girls (my phone number is with the box office, ladies…) and one (possibly legally actionable) Bruce Forsyth impression.

It looks great too, with Olivia Ward’s lavish period costumes a highlight, Tim Deiling’s versatile lighting and Ell-Rose Hughes clever wall frieze and simple reliance on chairs and sofas.

Sure, you can see why the show failed to set the West End alight in 1999. Steve Brown’s music is expertly played by the house band under Inga Davie-Rutter, but little of it actually sticks in the memory. Steve Brown and Justin Greene may have come up with a compelling book, but the lyrics too are sometimes pedestrian, wandering in and out of the locality rather than firmly establishing a sense of place and time.

What it all means, is that this is the rarest opportunity to see a forgettable show revived in the most unforgettable manner. This hugely talented team have produced a million-pound production out of nothing. Phoning the box office and “spend, spend, spending” on a ticket will bring a guaranteed first dividend. A real “8 draw” of a show. 24 points.

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