Mamma Mia: Novello Theatre, London
Reviewed 6th March 2019
Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvæus’ musical Mamma Mia has been enjoyed by audiences for 20 years making it one of the West End’s longest running musicals. Featuring well known ABBA hits such as ‘Dancing Queen’, ‘SOS’, ‘Gimme, Gimme, Gimme’, ‘Mamma Mia’ and ‘Thank You For The Music’ the feel-good show focuses on Sophie’s quest to find out the identify of her father on the eve of her wedding. A story of love, laughter and friendship unfolds we journey back to Sophie’s mother’s past and the 3 men with whom she spent the summer with on the Greek island paradise 20 years ago.
Fans of ABBA will no doubt love this musical, filled with ABBA’s greatest hits the story feels like a whistle-stop tour of the songs by the famous 1970’s band. The storyline is far-fetched and the characters are almost caricature like at times but it is easy to follow, has songs the audience can already hum along to and is set on a sunny, Greek island so its easy to see why it is a popular hit. Escapism at its best.
At this performance Donna Sheridan was played by Caroline Deverill who gave a brilliant performance as Sophie’s Mother. Vocally she is hugely talented and throughout the show Deverill was able to show a range of emotions to portray the journey her character goes on in such a short space of time. Due to the unfortunate ill-health of Georgia Louise which has meant that she has had to step down from the lead-role of Sophie Sheridan, Charlotte O’Rourke took to the stage as the hippy-self confident central character. Once again, vocally O’Rourke is very talented, this was particularly shown during ‘Under Attack‘ which allowed her to show off some realistic emotions and expressions. Jennifer Hepburn who took the role of Rosie during this performance should also be commended for her brilliant comic timing, particularly during the song ‘Take A Chance On Me‘. As you would expect, all of the cast are very well trained and talented. Despite the complexities of some of the ABBA songs, which are notoriously hard to sing, the cast perform the songs with ease. At points the characters feel too over the top and brash. The direction of the show feels forced and almost too in your face. However, as a comedy musical it certainly has the audience laughing and cheering on the characters.
The 20 year-old musical does feel slightly dated in terms of choreography, lighting and set. The simple set, designed by Mark Thompson, is used well to create the different scenes but it looks precariously wobbly at some points of the show. The lighting, by Howard Harrison, is bright and works fine but does not feel very inspiring. Choreography by Anthony Van Laast is performed very well by the cast. Whilst it is again, pretty ‘safe’ in terms of style it is very reminiscent of the 1970’s ABBA era. Perhaps Reinventing some of the somewhat tired moves may reinvigorate the show and make it look fresher.
Having such well-known songs is both a blessing and a curse. As with many jukebox musicals some of the songs feel shoe-horned in but the majority of the songs do fit the storyline (however far-fetched it may be). They are performed well by all the cast members and at points some of the arrangements of the songs give them a whole new meaning. ‘The Name of the Game’, ‘S.O.S’ and ‘Slipping Through My Fingers‘ in particular work really well. The mega-mix at the end of the show also is a fun addition and has everyone on their feet dancing along and cheering.
Mamma Mia is very upbeat and cheerful, from the music to the colourful costumes. It is a easy to watch, relaxing musical. Whilst it may not have any hard-hitting themes, complex characters or particularly innovative direction, it does allow for audience members to escape their lives and live out a fantasy world on a small Greek island for a few hours and there is certainly a space for that.
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Photo Credit: Brinkhoff/Mögenburg