Spend, Spend, Spend at the Note: This review dates from October 1999 and the production's West End run at the Piccadilly Theatre.
In these days of lottery multi-millionaires, Viv Nicholson's legendary £152,000 jackpot from the football pools sounds small fry. That was 1961, though. In today's money, Viv's mother lode equates to more than £3m- an unimaginable sum for a coal miner's wife from Yorkshire.
Today, the National Lottery provides counsellors to help winners come to terms with their sudden wealth, but a better approach might be to give them all tickets to this new musical by Steve Brown and Justin Greene. Taking its title from Viv's famous response when asked what she was going to do with the money, Spend Spend Spend is an object lesson in how to get it completely wrong.
The story starts with a young, sexually precocious Viv who dumps her first husband in favour of love-of-her-life second hubby Keith. Viv works in a liquorice factory, Keith in the local colliery, and they procreate ad nauseum while hiding from the rent collector. Aye, they were poor but they were happy. Then one night, as they prepare to spend their last two pounds for a pub blow-out, they tune in for the results of the football pools. And life changes forever.
The couple embarks on a no-holds-barred spending spree that sees them lose all their friends and spiral into drunken abandon. Just as they seem to be pulling back from the brink, Keith is killed in a car accident and, overwhelmed with grief, Viv tears through the remainder of the money, as well as a succession of deadbeat men.
In Jeremy Sams' production, we get two top-rate Vivs for the price of one. Barbara Dickson plays older Viv, topping and tailing the action with scenes from the present day then narrating us through the flashback sequences. At times, this proves a bit awkward as Dickson doesn't have much to do in many scenes except stay out of the way. But it's worth having her around for the times when she's allowed to break into song - firing the play's numerous ballads with real pathos.
Rachel Leskovac makes an accomplished West End debut as young Viv, simultaneously brash and naïve. The electricity generated between her and Steven Houghton's hunky Keith could light the whole city. Top marks too to the supporting ensemble and Lez Brotherston's conveyor belt set that gives Craig Revel Horwood lots of choreographic fun.
Steve Brown's songs are also pleasing to the ear and, if some are a bit derivative (close your eyes during the homage to Castleford families, and you'd swear you were at Oklahoma! during the Territory folk number), you're willing to forgive them. On the whole, this is an exceedingly fresh, inventive and terribly poignant new musical. A morality tale if ever there was one - careful what you wish for, it warns. Lottery punters, take note.