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Spend Spend Spend

A scene from Spend Spend Spend. Photo: Darren Bell A scene from Spend Spend Spend. Photo: Darren Bell
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It was a misfortune for the original production of this authentically British musical to open in the West End in 1999 just six months after the juggernaut of Mamma Mia! introduced another entire era to the genre. It’s a bit of a throwback: a musical about a real couple Viv and Keith Nicholson, in a real working class community in Yorkshire, who, in 1961, are visited by Lady Luck in the form of a football pools win (of £152,319 – equivalent to £2.96 million in 2015), but find that instead of solving problems it only creates vast new ones.

Estranged from their old community — and not at home in the posher part of town that they move to — bad choices and worse luck are regularly visited on them as they rapidly burn through their winnings. It’s a cautionary tale, of course, but there’s a captivating warmth and humanity to its beautiful telling.

Composer Steve Brown provides a gorgeously textured score, sometimes channelling the folk and choral tinged melodic world of Howard Goodall and also recalling the work of Willy Russell in its lush and lovely melodies that evocatively present a story of working class lives.

Christian Durham’s production brings it to thrilling 3D life, keeping the sprawling company on stage throughout as spectators when they’re not engaged in the marvellously naturalistic dances of Heather Douglas, who makes their movement utterly organic and effortlessly natural. Showbiz flourishes are banished in this gritty show.

Best of all, the two versions of Viv — her young, innocent self (Katy Dean, projecting vulnerability and survival in equal measure) and a more practical older version (the wounded but still resilient Julie Armstrong)  — are exquisitely contrasted, while Inga Davis-Rutter’s musical direction works its own miracle in layering the sound with similar intensity and integrity.

Union Theatre

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A musical that is the missing link between Blood Brothers and Billy Elliot is given a sterling revival that shows it deserves its place in that pantheon