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Mamma Mia

New Theatre, Oxford

There is very little one can do to analyse Mamma Mia! any longer because most people have seen the film and many people have seen the stage show. This touring production is a nice way for those who have only seen the film to discover where the material came from and how the original show suggested what came next. The set (based on the original one by Mark Thompson) is brilliantly evocative of the Greek island setting; the choreography (by Nichola Traherne based on the original dances and movement by Anthony van Laast), especially in the big concerted numbers, is excellent and gripping.  The music, of course, is a soundtrack for the lives of many people in the audience. As always with these tours, there is a lot of real talent performing up there on the stage that you keep wishing someone would write new material for. It would be good to see all of the principals again. If you only know the film you will also discover that there are some extra songs that were cut – I am guessing that probably in one case this was because Pierce Brosnan couldn’t have managed singing it.

The bad news is that the constant sense of surprise and cheekiness of the original production, of seeing the show or even the film for the first time, is diluted if you have so much prior knowledge of the material and how the songs are slotted in. No longer will you giggle at the set ups for the songs because you know precisely what song is coming. On the other hand, there is an extra dimension and delight to being able to see the material performed live by such talented and committed people.

In the stage version, the role of Sophie (the excellent and sympathetic Lucy May Barker) becomes more central. Philip Ryan is attractive as Sky, Louis Stockill makes an appealing Pepper. The role of Donna Sheridan is still an essential focus of the tale; and the night I attended she was charmingly played by Kay Milbourne who has the acting and vocal abilities needed for the role. She is sharing the role with Helen Hobson. Comparing notes with people who attended other performances I can confirm that neither one disappoints. The cast is comprised of people who are excellent musical comedy performers with good voices and a terrific dancing ability.

Another interest in seeing the original stage version if you know the film is to discover how much the story was amplified and even improved by the film and its ability to open things up. In the movie more time and attention was given to the back stories of characters like Harry (played by Jamie Hogarth),Bill (Christopher Hollis)and especially Sam (Jon Boydon). Donna and her friends (Rosie played by Gillian Hardie and Tanya played by Emma Clifford) have great impact on stage. I was particularly taken with their solos and the times they sang with Donna as a trio recalling their misspent youth.

This is really a superbly constructed ensemble piece with each character, young or old, being given a chance to step forward and have a shining moment. It is, indeed, an old fashioned musical. It is a great deal of fun!

The songs and routines are still the stars of the show and the movement and energy of the piece are ultimately infectious, building especially to the mini-gig during the curtain calls. This is a thoroughly enjoyable evening of fun, a bit of a romp and it gives a lot of pleasure to a packed audience. If you are an ABBA fan, you cannot go wrong; and even if you are not, it is still an utterly captivating show.

  • Musical
  • Music and Lyrics: Benny Andersson, Björn Ulvaeus and some songs with Stig Anderson
  • Book Catherine Johnson
  • Original Director: Phyllida Lloyd
  • Producer: Little Star in Association with Universal Stage Entertainment and NGM
  • Cast Includes: Helen Hobson/Kay Milbourne, Gillian Hardie, Emma Clifford, Jon Boydon, Jamie Hogarth, Christopher Hollis, Lucy May Barker, Phillip Ryan, Louis Stockil
  • New Theatre, Oxford
  • Currently on UK Tour
  • Review by Mel Cooper
  • 17 November 2017

About The Author

Reviewer (UK)

Canadian-born Mel Cooper first came to the UK to study English Literature at Oxford University and stayed. He was captivated by the culture and history of Britain, which he found to be a welcoming and tolerant country. After working in highly illustrated, non-fiction publishing for over a decade, he founded and edited the magazine Opera Now. Since then he has worked as a consultant to the Japanese broadcaster NHK, a broadcaster on British Satellite Broadcasting, a maker of audio shows and arts critic for several airlines, and as one of the team that started Britain’s first commercial classical music radio station, Classic FM, on which he was both a classical music DJ and creator and presenter of shows like Classic America and Authentic Performance. Throughout this period, he also lectured in music and literature in London and Oxford and published short stories in Canada. After working with the Genesis Foundation on helping to fund arts projects, he continues to write, review and lecture on music and literature. His first novel has just been published as an e-book. The title is City of Dreams. It is the first volume of a projected saga called The Dream Bearers. You can find the Kindle version of the book on Amazon.

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