Review: MAMMA MIA! (Novello Theatre, London)

What’s it all about?

Cutesy blonde, Sophie, rummages through her mother’s knicker drawer and reads her diary to find out who her father is. It turns out her mother, Donna, was a bit of a hussy and slept with three guys around the same time. Sophie invites all three to her imminent wedding in an effort to find out who the father is. In the end, no one is quite sure whose little swimmers are responsible, so after knowing Sophie for all of five minutes and spending virtually no time with her on stage, they agree to all be her father because they have become so inexplicably attached to her. Meanwhile Donna decides she’s not as over the men as she first thought, after reminiscing about the past with her unlikely friends, Rosie and Tanya.

The words…

To put it bluntly, this is no Shakespeare. The book by Catherine Johnson is about as shallow as the characters within it, and ultimately most of the two and a half hours whizzes by without very much happening at all. But then, that has always been the never-ending curse of the jukebox musical. And while some attempt is made to link up the musical numbers and to fashion some kind of narrative out of them, there’s no fooling anyone that this is all about getting the awaiting audience from one song to the next – because, let’s be honest, that is what the majority of them are there for. Most scenes are created purely to set up the songs, and aside from the beginning where the characters meet up and the closing wedding, the entire middle section could be removed with little effect to the overall plot.

The talent…

Despite the poor story, the cast on the night did a valiant job at bringing out the humour and getting the audience on side. And while some of the younger members were slightly weaker, all they are really in the show for is to dance around in skimpy clothes and to look pretty. As Donna, Rosie and Tanya, Shona White, Kate Coysten and Mazz Murray were more than adequate leads, and delivered the classics with enough glitter and aplomb to please any ABBA fan or hen party, while Richard Trinder, Charles Daish and Alastair Harvey played Sophie’s fathers Sam, Bill and Harry with the foolish clown-like quality needed to make not a single one of them even remotely desirable as a lover or a father. Odd.

The music…

In a jukebox musical like this, the music is the important part, and despite being an ABBA-phobe going into the show, I found myself tapping a leg and enjoying the more upbeat moments more than I’d care to admit. In fact, the highlight of the show is the final ten minutes of both the first and second halves, when any attempt at story is scrapped, the boiler suits are put on and the cast just have fun singing the songs. Pretty much every Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus hit is included, but ‘Money, Money, Money’ and ‘Voulez-vous’ are the real highlights. ‘Lay all your love on me’ also deserves special mention for being hilarious for all the wrong and right reasons – nowhere else in London will you see an ensemble doing a performance in flippers and goggles…

The design…

What design? It’s made up of garish blue walls, meant to represent the serenity of the greek island on which it’s set, and two white walls that get spun between three different positions to represent each location. Does it need more? Probably not, but it’s just so darn ugly. Poor effort, Mark Thompson.

The special mention…

Special mention to understudy Shona White, who in the lead role was by far the most convincing performer on the night, bringing a bit of heart to such a hammy story, and belting out ‘The Winner Takes It All’ with enough power that a few in the dress circle were on their feet at the end of the song – but then as an ex-Elphaba standby, that’s only to be expected.

Verdict: ★★★☆☆

Is it perfect? Not by a long shot! Is it blooming good fun? Absolutely, and I’m sure it would be even more so for the hardcore ABBA fans. The story is terrible and completely pointless, the current cast are a mixed bag although do a good job for the most part, but it’s all about the music, and nobody (including director Phyllida Lloyd) is under the impression it’s anything but a glorified concert. Top tip: have a few glasses of wine in the bar beforehand, it’ll help.

MAMMA MIA! is currently playing at the Novello Theatre until 22nd October 2016. Tickets can be purchased from the Delfont Mackintosh website here.

And the view…

Dress Circle, Row K, Seat 7. An adequate view at a lower price point but the overhang is very noticeable this far back in the circle, which is a shame because the rake of the seats means the bottom part of the stage is an uninterrupted view. While the letter-boxing of the view was not an issue for the most part, it meant that even the actor’s heads at the front of the stage were cut off when the audience were on their feet at the end of the show.

Novello Theatre, Dress Circle, Row K, Seat 7
Novello Theatre, Dress Circle, Row K, Seat 7

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