Benny Andersson & Bjorn Ulvaeus’
until Saturday 25th November 2017
Review by Esther Lafferty
Step off the street out of the grey November and into the New Theatre this week and you’ll find yourself whisked into the warmth of a Mediterranean idyll. On stage a set of simple white Greek buildings with sea-blue doors basks in a gently-striped turquoise light that infuses the entire production, and the weight of the world – should you, like the Greek Titan Atlas, be carrying it – falls from your shoulders and drifts away on the sea in which the island rests.
This may be whimsical, but MAMA MIA! is deliberately fun and packed with feel-good ABBA songs that pretty seamlessly tell the story of mother and daughter Donna and Sophie Sheridan as three unexpected visitors from Donna’s past arrive on the eve of Sophie’s wedding. The songs are joyous almost without exception (though I shed a tear during the poignant ‘Slipping Through My Fingers’ to the absolute horror of The very-very-nearly-grown-up Daughter alongside me) and the opening bars of every one were greeted by the audience with excited anticipation.
MAMA MAI! The musical (1999) came well before the film (2008) but the success of that film is part, I am sure, of what filled the auditorium – and full it was. I hadn’t seen the stage show before and so can’t say whether some of the characterisation has evolved since the film but the whole cast seemed extremely well-matched to their on-screen counterparts.
It’s refreshing to see a story on stage that focuses on the ‘forties’ generation, and Rosie and Tanya (played by Gillian Hardie and Emma Clifford respectively) proved a brilliant double act. The dad trilogy may not have included Colin Firth but Harry and Bill (Jamie Hogarth and Christopher Hollis) were the perfect uptight Englishman and laid back Aussie whilst Possible-Dad-heartthrob Sam had a voice that Pierce Brosnan might envy. He also had great on-stage chemistry with Kay Milbourne who played Donna Sheridan. It did take five minutes for us to get used to the fact that Kay/Donna wasn’t Meryl Streep, after which we were all agreed she was the perfect of guilt-ridden overworked mother and feisty still-got-it bride-to-be.
The costumes have been carefully colour-coordinated from start to finish, with navy and turquoise, creams and beiges bursting forth into bright oranges and passionate pinks with energetic dancing from a young and ripplingly-athletic ensemble as the celebrations picked up, via a wetsuit and a flippers sequence for some physical comedy that is guaranteed to make you chuckle, for the romantic ending that you’ll be expecting.
MAMA MAI! is the ultimate evening out for any Abba-lover, Dancing Queen or Super Trouper who loves a bright and cheerful musical and foot-tapping glitzy entertainment. And what ABBA tribute would be complete without 1970s jumpsuits sparkling under the lights? If you’ve got one, wear it!