MusicalNorth WestReview

Mamma Mia! – The Opera House, Manchester

Reviewer: Seb Farrell

Book: Catherine Johnson

Music & Lyrics: Benny Anderson & Bjorn Ulvaeus

Director: Phyllida Lloyd

We all know the story, we all know the songs. Our heroine Sophie (Jess Michelmore) is about to get married to Sky (Christopher Foley) and would like to invite along her absent Father (or Fathers) to give her away so, to start the show, she sends letters to the three men her Mother Donna (Sara Poyzer) had written about relations with in the summer before her birth. Much to the annoyance of Donna they all turn up together on the Greek Island on which she and Sophie now live and our story unfolds in the days leading up to the wedding.

Much like most jukebox musicals getting the book right can often prove tricky and although there are moments of tenderness and hilarity in Catherine Johnsons book the way in which our favourite Abba songs are shoe-horned into the story are often clunky at best. There is no getting away from the fact that ABBA songs are incredibly popular and will always get any audience up on their feet, there is also good reason as to why Mamma Mia! is the sixth longest-running show in West End history having opened its doors to the world in 1999 and that is because people like to escape and have a good time singing along with the songs they know and have a connection with.

It is a shame that the same connection couldn’t be attributed to most of the characters in this production. one had hoped for some warmth between Sophie and Donna particularly, which didn’t quite happen, the last scenes involving the world’s biggest moon were particularly flat and unloving and indeed most scenes between all the love interests were a little hammy. That said the relationships between friends particularly Rosie (Sarah Earnshaw) and Tanya (Nicky Swift) manage to find that delicate balance between musical grandeur and believability and offered most of the laughs throughout the evening. The performances of Neal Craig as Harry particularly his song ‘Our Last Summer’ and Richard Standing as Sam who acted with his back beautifully in ‘The Winner Takes It All’. are of particular highlight The majority of the cast were using their own Northern accents, which as a proud northerner I was very pleased about but it did sometimes feel a little like a ‘straight to DVD’ Coronation Street special in which our favourites characters find themselves on a Greek Island singing songs Comic Relief style. The ensemble were well-drilled and helped keep everything flowing.

The set was simple but effective incorporating blue plasticine-looking flats and backcloth which didn’t move whilst efficaciously using two flats on a revolve to create every scene needed on the Greek Island, the stage crew and cast making sure all scene changes were done with style and panache. The choreography by Anthony Van Laast is simple but energetic where it needed to be although I feel that the dancers could have been challenged further. Phyllida Lloyd ensures everything runs smoothly enough and it was a polished production but there was certainly room to have brought out what little drama there is in the production out more.

It’s no surprise after the ABBAmedley grand finale that the audience were up on their feet singing and dancing along, nor is it a surprise at how much of the audience took it upon themselves to sing along at full volume throughout the show, the lady sat behind us knew all of the songs, all of the words but alas only one note.

This is a super trouper treat and an absolute must for any ABBA fan but if you’re looking for something a little more seismic it may be better letting this Northern pop-tactic show slip through your fingers.

Runs until Saturday 11February 2023


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