VIVA ESPAÑA
Arts Theatre, London WC2
Opened 14 October, 1993

John Burrows and Rick Lloyd won Best Musical at the 1993 London Fringe Awards for this confection of sun, sand, San Miguel and shagging on a club package holiday in Ibiza. But what worked in a pub theatre comes over as threadbare and indecisive on a West End proscenium stage.

Musical numbers, arranged for a single keyboard/drum-machine combination, sound reedy when they should be heart-rending and tinkly-bonk instead of raucous. Singers are generally stranded behind a row of microphone stands on a static and underused mock-Miró set, and the songs themselves seem designed not to be memorable so much as merely plausible: assembly-line Pete Waterman-esque tunes delivered too often in Eurovision mid-Atlantic accents. The award probably wasn't won for the couplet "Spinning round, the words you said,/ Helicopters in my head."

Plot is minimal who will bed whom among the eight cut-out characters? and propelled by a succession of single entendres and all the clichés surrounding the 18-30 phenomenon. Booze, partying, fights, Spanish transvestites and more booze are all present and politically incorrect. It's this question of tone what might be called Godber's Disease that fatally afflicts the play. In trying simultaneously to celebrate and satirise an aspect of prole culture, the writers fall between two stools. They're too polite to finger savagely the sins of xenophobia and herd mentality, too timid to bawl really wildly about the fun. Their little muted ironies perish at the footlights.

To cap it all, it's out of time. In the late '80s while Burrows was on the holiday that inspired the show, Ibiza was bringing forth the first stirrings of rave music and culture. This sea-change in youth attitudes is conspicuous by its total absence from the play. The vibe is tepid rather than chillin'.

Written for the London Evening Standard.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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