It was great recently to catch up with Mamma Mia! at the Novello Theatre. When it opened in London in 1999 at the Prince Edward Theatre, few could have envisaged the worldwide success that this musical would have enjoyed both on stage and on screen.
Mamma Mia! is a musical which uses the songs from pop supergroup ABBA and combines them with an original story by Catherine Johnson. It’s a musical that is all about identity and finding your place in the world. I was around when ABBA was big the first time around. I remember how much I loved the songs and sitting watching those songs reborn in a theatrical context still hasn’t grown old nearly two decades later.
On the night in question, I caught Sorelle Marsh playing Donna. The role of Donna is a considerable sing with the character taking the journey through songs like Money, Money, Money to The Winner Takes It All to the achingly beautiful Slipping Through My Fingers. The latter two, in particular, were performed with real truth and emotional complexity. Donna’s Dynamos were played by Jo Napthine (Rosie) and Mazz Murray (Tanya), together this trio not only performed a near perfect Supertrouper in full spandex glamour but delivered a trio of friends that were altogether believable, bringing forth those moments full of reminiscences that kept the laughs flowing and the emotional content of the show real.
Mamma Mia’s three dads were brilliantly played by Alasdair Harvey (Harry), Richard Trinder (Sam) and understudy Stephen John Davis (Bill). The three possible dads have a convoluted story arc that had the audience well and truly onside. Their relationships with Donna and Sophie maintained were full of truth whilst allowing for enough comic interaction to keep the audience laughing as this comedic melange played out.
Sanne Den Besten (Sophie) and Richard Carson (Sky) are perfectly matched. Their onstage chemistry is palpable. Sophie’s torment as her well-laid plan starts to come apart provides a wonderful Act Two moment for these two talented young actors.
The ensemble of Mamma Mia! work incredibly hard each night to bring the Mediterranean madness of this wonderful story to life. One of my favourite moments in this production continues to be Under Attack, a fabulous ultra-violet take on the traditional theatre dream ballet. Keep an eye out for Filippo Coffano’s energetic and high-leaping Pepper and Jake Small’s Eddie during the second act when both really come into their own, but still fail to match the worldly wise smarts of Murray’s Tanya who in full flight is something to behold.
Mark Thompson’s sets dominated by the stark white and exquisite blues of the region still seem fresh and when combined with Howard Harrison’s lighting really deliver the radiating warmth of that hot Aegean sun. Marcus J Savage and his tight band pump out those familiar ABBA hits with gusto and enough reverence to the source material as to have kept an old ABBA fan like me smiling throughout.
Phyllida Lloyd’s production remains credible and fresh and when combined with Anthony Van Laast’s energetic choreography, you start to realise that this is no mere jukebox musical but a well-crafted show. Mamma Mia! remains an incredibly fun night at the theatre and it’s still difficult to believe that the show’s score of timeless pop was not purpose written for this show.