Writer: Catherine Johnson
Director: Phyllida Lloyd
Music and Lyrics: Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus
Choreographer: Anthony Van Laast
Reviewer: Hannah Stamp
Bursting with colour, comedy, dance moves that pack a punch and Abba’s much-beloved music, Mamma Mia is bursting with as much sunshine as the Greek island its set on.
A slightly rocky start with a few repetitive and slightly underwhelming scenes soon makes way for a more upbeat end to the first half of the show, which only improves in strides as the second half kicks off. Excellent male members of the ensemble bring a sense of quirk and welcome comedy to a dance routine clad in scuba diving gear. The tongue in cheek routines make a welcome change to choreography that is often used solely to wow and impress the audience with complicated steps and dramatic lifts.
Jaqueline Braun and Emma Clifford shine particularly brightly as leading lady Donna’s excited friends, Rosie and Tanya. Braun’s colourful pursuit of the man who catches her eye is reminiscent of a Dawn French comedy sketch. In opposition, Clifford rebuffs her pursuer with effortless sass as she belts out Does Your Mother Know?. The larger than life double act end up outshining the star of the show, particularly as Sara Poyzer’s Donna stands noticeably aside as they bring Chiquitita to life.
With equal sparkle, the male characters refuse to be outdone by their female co-stars, with Richard Standing’s Sam Carmichael and Tim Walton’s Harry Bright shining in their roles as two of Donna’s ex-partners. As they come to realise they are potential fathers to her daughter Sophie, they begin a hilarious and flawed journey towards fatherhood. Walton’s awkward attempts to be spontaneous, including a snowy smudge of misplaced sun cream, help to round his character into a more relatable alternative to the other smooth and polished cast members.
A rather disappointing set with scenery that rarely changes is rectified in the magnetic pull of the excited cast and, of course, the timeless music of Abba that cries out to be sung along to. Few musicals can boast a fully standing, dancing audience demanding more songs even as the cast are taking their final bow. Mamma Mia! can count itself as one of these. However, while the light-hearted fun is never in short supply, there are also a few moments of heartfelt and unexpected emotion to look forward to. Easy to forget, the story is ultimately about a girl searching for her father and her identity. Lucy May Barker carries this with grace, bringing depth to a show full of silliness and laughter. A moment of bonding with her mother Donna in a sweet version of Slipping Through My Fingers allows a complicated mother-daughter relationship and the bittersweet nature of growing up to come to a head.
Ultimately about the sparkle, usually in the form of disco boots and gem-encrusted collars, Mamma Mia! is bottled, cheesy fun. With typically drab, grey weather filling the British New Year, a taste of sun-soaked Greek beaches and disco music is a welcome and much wanted relief.
Runs until 25 February 2017 | Image: Brinkhoff/Mögenburg