A Brutally Honest Evening with Mel B review – scary, spicy and surreal

This show is billed as “brutally honest” so let’s be brutally honest. Mel B’s audience isn’t full – although neither is it the sales disaster that supports tabloid speculation that two spoken-word performances will lose her £57,000. She also denies press reports that she is “unemployed and broke”. However, there’s certainly a story in how working-class teenager Melanie Brown became a Spice Girls superstar and is now a 44-year old mother back home in Leeds, living with her mum.

Grilled on a union jack sofa by “celebrity journalist”/biographer Louise Gannon, Brown reveals the five hours of hair-weaving and vocal warm-ups that turn her into Scary Spice. She talks about her mixed-race childhood and bisexuality, hints that the Spice Girls will play Glastonbury in 2020 and is joined by her dog, Cookie, who promptly pees on stage.

Things turn from surreal to compelling when Brown discusses her 10-year marriage, which she claims was “coercive, abusive and violent”. (Her former husband, Stephen Belafonte, disputes her allegations.) She is incisive on the incremental power of a controlling man and talks about why she had a tattoo of her ex-husband’s name physically cut from her body (she keeps it in a jar). Her tearful video diaries from the marriage are harrowing.

Stop stealing my show! … Mel B with her dog, Cookie. Photograph: Andrew Benge/Getty Images

A woman gets up from the audience to thank Brown for championing LGBT rights and proposes to her girlfriend on stage, and we haven’t even reached the interval yet. Second-half subjects career from suicide attempts to how her father’s death gave her the push to finally leave Belafonte. She discusses her televised claim to Piers Morgan that she once had sex with Geri Horner (which Ginger Spice denies), explains why she bought a goat and howls: “Stop stealing my show!” at Cookie, who is dancing on hind legs.

The show ends with Brown bickering comically with “Mother” (“What’s this about us buying chickens?”) and dancing with her family to I Will Survive. It’s far too long, but somewhere in the chaos is a powerful insight into superstardom’s human cost and what it means to gain, surrender and determinedly rediscover girl power.

At the Savoy theatre, London, on 1 September.

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