Ginger Hibiscus | Ginger Hibiscus | REVIEW: Spend Spend Spend at the Union Theatre
Ginger Hibiscus | REVIEW: Spend Spend Spend at the Union Theatre
Ginger Hibiscus | REVIEW: Spend Spend Spend at the Union Theatre
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29 Mar REVIEW: Spend Spend Spend at the Union Theatre

If you won the lottery tomorrow, what would you do?

Aside from being a standard-issue “getting to know you” type job interview question, it’s one that most of us will have given at least a passing thought to at some time or another, probably in a moment of feeling (that’s feeling, not being) profoundly impoverished, as though being handed a glittering cheque would solve all of the world’s ills. Maybe you’d pay off the mortgage and go on the holiday of a lifetime, or give half to charity, and share the rest with family and friends. A new house would probably be on the cards – maybe even a car too. Perhaps you’d invest it wisely, and live extravagantly off your certain-to-appear investment gains. Or maybe you’d blow it all in Vegas. Safe to say, you’re almost definitely imagining a weight off the mind and a sparkling lifestyle of privilege and opportunity.

When Viv Nicholson, a real woman, and her husband won £152,319 in the pools in 1961 (that’s around £3m in todays money), she really did have to answer that question as a media circus erupted, uninvited, at her doorstep. But she already knew her response would be to, “Spend Spend Spend.”

The problem is, it turns money isn’t infinite. Sure, if you rub enough cash together in exactly the right way, it can somehow, miraculously breed even more cash, but even when you have a lot of it, apparently it can still run out. So it’s not any “privilege and opportunity” afforded her by a stroke of “luck” that makes Viv Nicholson’s story worth hearing; it’s the way this feisty woman went from rags to riches and back to rags again, in a tragic twist of events that she wasn’t entirely responsible for.

A fascinating character played by a glorious pair of actresses in Julie Armstrong and Katy Dean, what makes Viv so compelling is how real she is. Neither overtly sympathetic nor explicitly bad, through writer Steve Brown she bursts on stage, gutsy and flawed as she looks back at the decisions she made – and those that were forced upon her – with wiser and harder eyes. Simultaneously strong and vulnerable, the span of her experience (and her penchant for discussing sex) would make her character a phenomenal Loose Women panelist, though it has to be said that the comparison does a pronounced disservice to the quality of the musical.

With actresses so well cast that Viv and Young Viv could genuinely be the same woman, 20 years apart, the two are never more aligned than during her Sexual Happening, a triumph of choreographic humour courtesy of Heather Douglas, as the pent up frustration of an ice cream girl finally unravels and she learns the dance of love. But it’s not just the Vivs that are well pitched; the whole cast of 15 – enormous for such a bijou theatre space – fizz with energy, and when they all take the stage together it triggers a gorgeous kind of chain reaction, compounding the intensity and creating marvellous acoustic harmonies that epitomise the magic of studio theatre.

Even though Viv’s pools win happened over 50 years ago, Spend Spend Spend isn’t just a nostalgia-fest celebrating the swinging ‘60s. It also asks interesting questions on attitudes to money, financial advice, and the divergence in outcomes for the advised and advisers. With the demonisation of bankers and the taxman more than just a passing trend, a spotlight is even turning to shine on firms providing complicated wealth maintenance schemes that Joe Bloggs would never understand or enjoy. Watching in the knowledge of a contemporary context makes the Dance of the Suits feel eternally timely, casting a cynical – and comedic – eye on city financiers that wield small print and big words as their weapons of choice, in a battle that only one side can ever win.

With celebrity bankruptcies fast becoming as common as Burberry handbags, the notion of coming from nowhere, to having it all and then losing it all is one we’re all familiar with. But the story of Viv Nicholson is so much more than the headlines could ever let on, nuanced with tragedy, heartache and pineapple and cheese on sticks. With more than a faint whiff of Calendar Girls about it, Spend Spend Spend swells and bursts with joyful exuberance, champagne frothing beneath a little cloud of colliery dust and trickling, forever, upwards.

Venue: The Union Theatre
Dates: 25th March – 18th April 2015
For tickets and information:

Star Rating

Ginger Hibiscus don’t like using stars as a headline; we think they’re too reductionist, and that decision-making based on stars misses the point of a review. Just as you wouldn’t judge a personality using a five-point scale, theatre is multi-dimensional. So have a read, and then look at the stars afterwards.
Okay, fine, but how many stars do you give it? Click here