Arts diary: Viva Forever? | Vicky not forever | McCartney or Morrissey?

Vicky Featherstone. Picture: Robert Perry
Vicky Featherstone. Picture: Robert Perry
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PICTURE the scene. It’s the morning after the premiere of a glittering new West End musical, inspired by the songs of an internationally successful British pop group and written by a 1980s alternative comedy star.

The reviews are in, and they’re all absolutely damning. “Shallow, stupid and totally vacuous,” rages the Daily Mail. “Trite and tacky,” says the Independent. “Ruthlessly manufactured,” says the Guardian. “Prolefeed at its worst,” huffs the Telegraph, a bit snobbishly. “Risible,” says the Daily Mirror.

What a disaster. Well, actually no. We Will Rock You was a global smash hit, and celebrated its tenth anniversary this year. Its writer, Ben Elton, says he has a sequel ready to go, based around Queen songs that he couldn’t quite fit into the first script. The only reason it hasn’t been staged yet is that so many people still want to see the original.

So Jennifer Saunders perhaps shouldn’t feel too disheartened by critics’ reactions to her Spice Girls musical, Viva Forever, which opened on Tuesday. “Terrible,” said the Telegraph. “A prize Christmas turkey,” said the Mail. “Truly mediocre,” said the Stage. Etc.

One line from Charles Spencer’s Telegraph review leaps out. “Cashing in on the Spice Girls’ back catalogue must have seemed a no-brainer. In fact, it was a ghastly mistake.”

A mistake? If that turns out to be true, it certainly won’t be because a critic said so. Remember the Take That musical, Never Forget? The critics liked that one, on the whole. “Strikingly exuberant,” said the Guardian following its premiere in Cardiff. “Clearly destined to do a lucrative trade with raucous, chardonnay-fuelled hen parties,” was the verdict of, yes, the Telegraph’s Charles Spencer, when Never Forget transferred to London in May 2008. Bit snobbish, again. And wrong. The show closed six months later.

Vicky not forever

A FOND goodbye, then, to Vicky Featherstone, pictured, the first artistic director of the National Theatre of Scotland, who is off to run the Royal Court Theatre, in London.

Featherstone’s departure was marked on Monday with a party at Tramway in Glasgow, at which playwright David Greig paid tribute with an affectionate and inspired poem in the style of Scotland’s greatest poet, William McGonagall (although McGonagall would never have thought to rhyme “edgy yins” with “crazy f***ing Belgians”.)

You can read the poem in full at Greig’s website (here’s the link:

I particularly enjoyed this response to people enraged that Scotland’s national theatre was being run by a woman from Surrey…

“Those thrawn Scots who caused a fuss – and said

That Vicky ‘wisnae quite, well… one of us.’

Now five years on – and looking back

I want to blast the trumpet back

And say – ‘one of us?’ – f*** that pish

She expanded ‘us’, we are now bigger fish

In a bigger pond –

There is a part of Scotland’s psyche now, that no-one owns

Because it’s Vicky Featherstone’s.”

The tributes will continue tonight at the Creative Scotland Awards at Kelvingrove in Glasgow. Remember, that supposedly populist prize ceremony that costs £110 to get into? Featherstone and her associate director John Tiffany are nominees in the Scottish Arts Ambassador Award, a prize given to somebody who “has truly excelled in championing Scotland both at home and around the world”.

As I’ve said a couple of times already, I think this is a ridiculous award. What artist in their right mind wakes up in the morning and thinks “what can I do to champion Scotland today?”

Nothing wrong with wanting to champion your home country, of course, but it is emphatically not what art or artists are for, and the Arts Ambassador award – like many of the other prizes being given out tonight – reflects a worrying approach to funding, in which, as Kenneth Roy put it in a scathing Scottish Review article this week, “the artists of Scotland [are] required to regard themselves as patriots, contributors to the country’s ‘future success’.”

There were hints in Creative Scotland’s contrite announcement last Friday that this kind of thinking may now be consigned to the past. I hope so. It insults and diminishes Scottish artists to assume they should behave as if they’re a branch of the tourism industry, or – by implication – cheerleaders for nationalism.

It’s never a good idea for people in glass houses to throw stones, but it is somehow fitting, given the disastrous year Creative Scotland has had, that the awards website has spelled Featherstone’s name wrong – not once but twice. At time of writing it still can’t decide whether she’s called Vicki Featherstone or Vickie Featherstone.

McCartney or Morrissey?

You wait ages for a bizarre pop culture story to come along, then get two within hours of each other. First, Sir Paul McCartney joins Nirvana (uniting Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic on stage for the first time in years) without even realising he was doing it (he didn’t know who they were).

Then Morrissey decides Kate Middleton is 1) personally responsible for the suicide of nurse Jacintha Saldanha and 2) faking her illness.

It’s difficult to pick a favourite, but I’m going to go with McCartney story, since 1) there’s nothing funny about the Morrissey story and 2) Morrissey already compared the Olympics opening ceremony to Nazi Germany this year, so the appropriate reaction to anything he says now is probably just to roll your eyes.

Next week: Brian Wilson joins Throbbing Gristle.