ComedyDramaFamilyMusicalReviewSouth West

Mamma Mia! Theatre Royal, Plymouth

Reviewer: Kelyn Luther

Book: Catherine Johnson

Music and Lyrics: Benny Andersson & Björn Ulvaeus

Director: Phillida Lloyd

Choreographer: Anthony Van Laast

Mamma Mia! is not only one of the most successful jukebox musicals but one of the most successful West End shows (seventh longest-running show in West End history, and still running today), not to mention the film adaptation, so it’s a real treat to see this on tour.

The show is set on a small Greek island, where Donna (Sara Poyzer) slogs away at her crumbling taverna and stresses over the upcoming marriage of her 20-year-old daughter Sophie (played at this performance by Lucy May Barker). Sophie wants her dad to walk her down the aisle – except she doesn’t know who he is. She invites the three potential candidates- adventurous Bill (Phil Corbitt), timid Harry (Daniel Crowder) and love of Donna’s life Sam (Richard Standing), in the belief that she’ll know her dad at first sight.

The trap that many jukebox musicals fall into is hashing together a forgettable plot whilst shoehorning in all the artist’s famous songs. Mamma Mia!’s plot is classic romantic comedy material, and book writer Catherine Johnson knows when and where to fit a song into the show and when to save it for the finale. You never feel like you’re mentally ticking off a list of ABBA hits, though we do get all the classics (plus underrated ones like Under Attack). ABBA songs themselves are mini-narratives, from the bitter break-up of The Winner Takes It All to the nostalgia of Our Last Summer so lend themselves well to repurposing as musical theatre numbers. There are only minimal tweaks to the songs; one of the best is swapping Does Your Mother Know? from male vocals, giving it to cougar Tanya (Helen Anker) so it becomes playfully tongue-in-cheek.

The show is definitively female-centred in its story (ultimately, one of friendship), and in its creative team (female producer, female director, female book-writer) – which seems to be a rarity in musical theatre even now and a welcome change. Both female leads are excellent: Barker is bubbly and froths with the innocence needed to believe in what is logically a ridiculous move, and Poyzer deftly balances the daft comedy and touching moments. The emotional highlight is Slipping Through My Fingers, as mother and daughter bond the night before the wedding. The sentimental points of the show are never overwrought.

The performances here are toned down from the film, which was a guilty pleasure of watching stars letting down their hair and having a bash at karaoke. It takes a little getting-used to the shift but pays off in the increased quality of the vocals. Harry’s characterisation in this show (down to the writing and Crowder’s performance) is much stronger and less jokey, whilst still being funny.

The full seventies nostalgia is saved for the dancing, jiving finale where the audience can finally get on their feet and let loose, although we do get some nineties nostalgia in the costumes (particularly in Voulez-Vous/ Gimme Gimme Gimme).

Mamma Mia! is a true feel-good show; even the emotional moments are still heart-warming, rather than coming across as tragic or brooding. One of the heights of this feel-good factor, is a scene where a stressed Donna is buoyed up by her friends, culminating in them bursting into Dancing Queen – an ode to youth – and showing that there’s nothing like old friends and an ABBA song to lift your spirits.

Voulez-vous? Yes you do!

Runs at this venue until 5 Feb, then touring

The Reviews Hub Score

You will dance, you will jive!

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The Reviews Hub - South West

The Southwest team is under the editorship of John McRoberts. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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