Times are hard, but I’ve a little rule of thumb that rarely lets me down: never trust a West End show that comes with a meal deal attached. Good things rarely follow.
So it proved this week when Viva Forever! – lately offering cut-price tickets for £25, with dinner at Tiger Tiger thrown in – posted early closing notices.
The musical, which features the songs of the Spice Girls, has been running on borrowed time ever since it opened in December to the kind of reviews that give critics a chance to shine. It was, they said, “jaw-droppingly witless”, “a ghastly mistake”, the kind of show that makes one yearn to be allowed “a minus-star rating”. Nothing daunted, the producers showed off its clutch of one stars in cheeky adverts with the hashtag #whatashocker and the tagline: “The critics may not have been dancing in the aisles but the audiences certainly are!” Not enough of them, clearly. The show will close in June, having racked up £5m in losses. They will need to shift an awful lot of Viva pashminas (£25) between now and then to make up for that.
I saw Viva Forever! a fortnight ago (disclosure: I went on a press ticket, having written a feature pre-opening) and Baby Spice was sitting in the row in front. When she returned to her seat after the interval, the theatre jumped to its feet, whooping, clapping and whipping out their camera phones. It was, ominously, the most noise they made all night.
Musical theatre is a fickle mistress. What looks good on paper – the producer of the $2bn-grossing musical Mamma Mia!, the writer of Ab Fab and the biggest girl band of all time – might look terrible from the stalls. And while one can take a good stab at it, it is impossible to second-guess audience tastes. Legally Blonde sounded like the worst kind of cynical Hollywood spin-off but critics and crowds alike loved it. Similarly, no one would have predicted that London Road, a musical about the Ipswich prostitute murders, would return to the National Theatre, having sold out a first run on the back of rave reviews. Even Matilda, which has bewitched Broadway, winning 12 Tony nominations this week, wildly surpassed expectations. It began as a 12-week experiment in the RSC’s temporary theatre.
Of course, one star doesn’t necessarily signal the end for a show. The critics hated Wicked and We Will Rock You too, and they’re still running. We have a fondness for flops – if Mike Read had a pound for every time the reviews of his one-night Oscar Wilde musical were trotted out, he would have recouped his losses by now – but Viva’s attempt to spin their bad reviews failed for two reasons.
First, Mamma Mia! created a monster. There are more jukebox musicals than jukeboxes in the West End these days, and competition for the hen-night pound is fierce. Second, Viva Forever! isn’t good enough. When hits such as “Wannabe” or “Stop” come, it zings, but there are too many fillers. The fatal flaw is replacing Ginger and co in the story with bland young reality TV wannabes. The phenomenon was always about the Spice Girls, not the songs. Without them, the show lacks personality, spark, a certain zig-a-zig-ah.
Those mourning Viva’s demise won’t have long to wait for the next fix. Six months after the curtain comes down, X Factor – It’s Time to Face the Musical will open in the West End. Like Viva it has backing from a music mogul (Simon Cowell, not Fuller), a bona fide comedian writer in Harry Hill, a script set in the world of reality television and a multimillion-pound budget. It sounds like a car crash waiting to happen. So it will probably be a huge hit.
Eat less, walk more – the only diet worth following
What happens to diet doctors when the fad, inevitably, moves on? Are Dr Atkins and Dr Dukan sitting at home, forgotten and unloved, waiting for the call from I’m a Celebrity – Get Me Out of Here!? It would be sweet indeed to see them scoff kangaroo testicles and frog eyeballs on prime time television, but most likely they are too busy in their millionaire mansions, preparing low-carb banquets of grilled turkey and banknotes.
In any case, Atkins’ protein push and Dukan’s attack phase are over. The new diet is 5:2. You can’t have missed it. Followers fast for two non-consecutive days a week – eating no more than 600 calories, 500 for women – and “feast” (or stick to the recommended daily calorie intake) for the other five. To be clear, 500 calories is the equivalent of a croissant and a large latte. So it is possible to reach one’s limit before the working day proper has begun. This week, Phillip Schofield came out as its latest celebrity patron, claiming to have lost 9lb in four weeks on it. Even the food writer Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall is on it.
The NHS warns that the long-term effects are unknown, but the Fast Diet’s creators, Dr Mosley and Mimi Spencer, aren’t in it for the long term. Just like most dieters, in fact. Moderation and regular exercise are consistently shown to be the best way to lose weight and keep it off, but they are neither lucrative, nor exciting. Go online and there are 5:2 acolytes chattering about skipping meals, or going to bed at 7pm on fast days to save on waking hours without fuel. Their tips all amount to the same thing: binge, then punish yourself with bouts of starvation and guilt. That’s not an eating plan; that’s an eating disorder.
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