‘Wannabe’ – Sunderland Has Been Spiced Up

Much like bangers and mash, Ant ‘n’ Dec and complaining about the weather, The Spice Girls are a timeless British classic; like a port in a storm they provide reassurance and fond memories of a better time. The late ’90’s was a far simpler, more joyous era (perhaps because I was an innocent child at that point), but I do think if Britpop made a return, the world would be a much calmer place; as it brings everyone together like the shared sense of annoyance within any delayed train carriage in any location within the British Isles.

So, like the mature, professional adult I am, I spent my Saturday night at the theatre. Everything is cultural and high brow if it takes place in a theatre, right? I’ve spent countless happy evenings in the Sunderland Empire, from the annual ballet with my mum and sister to family pantomimes at Christmas, countless musicals and even performing on that very stage myself, I’m always just as impressed by its beautiful Victorian interiors, the grandeur of the bars and the exquisite ceilings. And last night I was able to appreciate that for approximately four minutes; prior to the audience erupting out of their seats as the classic hit ‘Wannabe’ began blaring from the speakers following the curtain raise.

‘Wannabe’ the show is an odd mix between a Spice Girls tribute act and a musical. There isn’t a story per se, but it follows the career of the Spice Girls as both a group and solo artists (who knew Victoria Beckham had a solo single? I must’ve been washing my hair the day that came out), peppered with numerous nostalgic 90’s references: tamagotchis; Nokia 3310 phones; Pepsi cans – it was like opening a time capsule and re-living so many wonderful memories of a well-spent youth. Well, if it wasn’t for the eleven year old child in front of me incessantly asking her mum what all those references meant. When did I get so old?

So, the lack of a solid storyline is completely made up for by the experience of being able to hear classic, amazing songs performed by artists who, unlike the actual Spice Girls, can sing and dance with real competency. ‘Wannabe’ coming to Sunderland a month prior to the real girls’ performance at the Stadium of Light is a blatant marketing tool, for which I was always going to be sucked into buying tickets, but this technique may have actually backfired because the quality of performance in the show far surpasses anything I’ve seen from the Spice Girls, even when they were 20 years younger. I’ve always been a great lover of theatre productions because musical theatre performers are always so unbelievably energised and talented that stories and songs come alive before the audience’s eyes; and being able to experience classic, fun pop songs performed with a level of enthusiasm and talent that actually does them justice has completely upped the ante – the actual Spice Girls should feel nervous to follow that if I’m honest.

The set list was of course an array of Spice Girls classics, but also intertwined with some other classic covers. Having been born in the 90’s I am of course a firm believer in Girl Power, but a vocally competent version of the Spice Girls covering ‘Sisters are Doing it for Themselves’ was like a feminism bomb going off inside the theatre, there was not one bum which remained on their seat. An audience consisting entirely of drunk women and gay men is always going to be somewhat energised, but I was not at all prepared for the level of enthusiasm which this show aroused from its audience. The group rendition of Geri Halliwell’s classic cover of ‘It’s Raining Men’ complete with extremely buff male dancers ripping their shirts off at appropriate moments naturally caused absolute carnage in an audience of hen parties, cocktail-infused women in platform trainers and men who can high kick better than Louie Spence, but, because it’s in an ornate Victorian theatre the experience was, of course, classy and sophisticated at all times.

My only regret about attending ‘Wannabe’ was not dressing up. My friend and I joked about dressing up as Geri and Posh but stupidly, I dressed appropriately for an evening of dinner and the theatre with my friend, so by the interval I was sweating buckets and my feet were blistered beyond belief. The interval offers no relief either, consisting of a 90’s karaoke singalong to classics from the likes of Steps and Hanson; suffice to say I went home with no voice and aches in places I didn’t know could ache. A word of advice to anyone intending to cosplay their favourite Spice Girl – pick Sporty. Because when you’re cutting shapes in the aisles with topless male dancers to ‘Spice Up Your Life’, the last thing you want is to have a nip slip in Ginger’s Union Jack dress or to fall and break your neck in Posh’s stilettos. Any Spice Girls themed event is one of the few occasions where it’s appropriate to wear tracksuit bottoms and trainers in public, so I’m quite annoyed I didn’t allow myself that luxury.

But anyway, I’m off to catch up on my sleep, before digging out my old Union Jack dress and collapsing on the sofa in front of Spiceworld the Movie while planning how to re-design the interiors of my house to resemble the Spice bus.

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