A 'WINNING' PERFORMANCE

When young Castleford lass Viv Nicholson won the football pools in 1961, scooping the plenteous sum of £152,319 (the equivalent today of some £2.5 million), she told the Press she would "spend, spend, spend", and by heck she did! But never did she imagine that those infamous words would resonate through time and become the inspiration behind this fabulous award-winning musical.

Under the creative direction of Tony Creasey, Grayshott Stagers brought Viv's extraordinary rags to riches - and back to rags again - story to life with absolute passion and finesse. A captivated audience watched in awe as the cast unraveled her tumultuous tale of laughter, love, and loss, embracing the exuberant spirit of this true northern legend.

Written by Steve Brown and Justin Greene, and based on Viv's original 1977 Biography, her story is told in flashback from the Salon Mystique where she worked. Older and wiser, yet still with the characteristic sparkle in her eye, Viv reflects on the highs and lows of her life with a compelling mixture of humour, warmth and sadness. She recalls the days when, as a high-spirited, feisty sixteen year old, she was desperate to escape the oppressive clutches of her domineering father (a miner who spent more time on the sick, or boozing, than at work). But, from one suffocating situation to another, Viv soon found herself trapped in an unhappy marriage to local lad Matt Johnson. That was until she met the boy next door...

The love of her life, Keith Nicholson, swept her off her feet and soon became husband number two (that is of an impressive five in total!). However, living on a £7-a-week trainee miner's wage in a tiny terraced house with three young kids, was certainly no easy feat. As their lives spiraled to seemingly irrecoverable depths, by some incredible stroke of luck, fate waved its magic wand. As they listened to the radio in disbelief, one by one, their numbers came in. And from that point onwards, life for the Nicholsons became one big spend, spend, spend.

Leaving behind her northern mining roots for a new life in affluent Garforth, Viv and Keith went in search of the perfect dream. The couple spent like there was no tomorrow: a pink Chevrolet, booze, minks and jewels, more booze, a palatial property, and still more booze - they were well and truly swept along by the dizzy heights of their new extravagant lifestyle. But tragically, their newfound wealth could not buy them happiness. From fortune and fast cars, to a funeral and eventual financial meltdown, Viv slowly watched her money and life fritter away.

The dynamic duo, Sue Stuart-Smith and Alexandra Yates, stole the show with their passionate performances. As the celebrity herself Alexandra, playing the young Viv, portrayed her character with wonderful depth, capturing her vivacious, fun-loving nature with utmost energy and zeal. In perfect harmony, Sue Stuart-Smith narrated Viv's heart-rending life-story with tenderness, wit and charm. Together, they struck a powerful chord with the audience, especially the emotive scene following the unexpected death of her second husband.

Equally strong was actor Kevin Sampson playing the role of the delectable but reckless Keith. Channeling every ounce of energy into his delivery, he burst onto the stage with enthusiasm and continued to shine throughout. Playing alongside Alexandra, the pair successfully depicted the turbulent love affair of the Castleford couple who came to be known as the most famous pool winners in history. A special mention must also be given to Richard White whose masterful stage presence, as George, Viv's tyrannical father, was utterly convincing and haunting.

At times risqué - brimful of sexual innuendo - the show was highly entertaining and fuelled much laughter amongst the audience. The challenging, fast-paced score was effectively mastered, thanks to the experienced guidance of Musical Director Doreen Wylde, MBE, and the talented orchestral quartet led by lan Young.

With slick, imaginative choreography, devised by the Director and young budding actress Katie-Jane Bevan, and strong vocals and characterisation, the chorus supported the winning lead cast superbly well. They showed great diversity and unity playing a multitude of roles, from inebriated locals at the Miners' Arms, to the snooty middle-class residents of Garforth who, at first, shunned the Nicholsons, calling them vulgar, brash and "so nouveau riche". Of course, they were more than happy to party at the couple's expense later on.

At one point though, it did look like the so-called curse of Viv Nicholson (as one of the male characters blatantly puts it "Your men all wind up in a hearse") might have struck when a large glitter ball plummeted from above, crashing to the stage moments before the cast were set to enter. Luckily, no one was hurt. In fact, it added to the comedy of the production when Sue Stuart-Smith casually added, speaking in her character's soft Yorkshire accent, "These things happen in Castleford y'know!"

By the end of the opening night's performance, the audience left buzzing and was clearly full of praise for the show. Unfortunately for the Grayshott Stagers, Viv Nicholson, who is known to make appearances at some amateur performances, was unable to make the long journey south. However, she did send a personal message wishing the cast the very best of luck, and added "I have had many opportunities to see some of the shows and they usually do my story proud, so I am in no doubt that Grayshott will do also." Well Viv, they certainly did.

Charlotte Gateshill