Music & Lyrics: Benny Andersson & Bjorn Ulvaeus
Book: Catherine Johnson
Director: Phyllida Lloyd
Reviewer: David Robinson
There can be few better ways to beat off the January blues than a trip to Mamma Mia! the stellar feel-good musical, currently bringing some Greek island paradise sunshine to Northampton. There seems little evidence of the warmth folk feel for these classic ABBA tracks lessening, certainly not based on the toasty reaction to this ongoing UK tour version. The packed audience of varying ages smile, sing and yes eventually dance and sway to the timeless tunes of Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus. To date, the show has been seen by over sixty million people across fifty different productions and in sixteen different languages. It is one of only five musicals to run for more than ten years on both Broadway and the West End.
The pivotal reason for the success is undeniably the ABBA catalogue of hits, memorable melodies that stick with you long after leaving the warmth of the Greek sunshine, but they still need to be delivered as does the story that fits around those celebrated tunes. It is a story of friendship, of family and of finding identity. Sophie, warmly portrayed by Lucy May Barker is on the eve of her wedding, her quest is to invite three men to her big day and to bring them face to face with her mother. One of the trio she believes to be her father. The result, of course, is a wedding day no one is about to forget. Sophie’s mother is Donna Sheridan (Helen Hobson), who also has a couple of old friends on the guest list, the other two members of her one-time girl band Donna and the Dynamos. Rosie (Gillian Hardie), and Tanya (Emma Clifford) are those other dynamos and bring power and energy and a current of comedy that sizzles with spirit and animation throughout. Helen Hobson ushers in a mixture of poignancy and stoicism to both her acting and delivery of songs that is a touching delight. The ensemble dancers are worthy of mention they bring the sunshine and the Mediterranean heat to every one of Anthony Van Laast’s routines. Louis Stockil as Pepper is not only a very impressive and tireless dancer but he also makes the most of some keenly observed comedic moments with Emma Clifford’s Tanya.
Phyllida Law’s direction is assured and is splendidly witty and entertaining and captures the liberality and warmth of Catherine Johnson’s story with ease.
The ABBA sound occasionally wins against the vocals, but nobody seems to be too concerned: it is still a winner for loyal fans and newcomers alike. Catch some sweet sounding sunshine and warm up your January.
Runs until 3 February 2018 | Image: Brinkhoff/Mögenburg