Prior to the commencement of this evening’s performance of Mamma Mia!, the atmosphere at the Novello Theatre was something I had never felt before. Perhaps it was because this was my first time attending this type of musical.
In anticipatory nature, the audience members around me had comfortably taken their seats with smiles that suggested they knew what was coming; they knew that they were about to escape into a world full of foot-tapping music, cheesy dance steps, and ultimate female power. Mamma Mia! is a fitting complement to the songs of a legendary pop group.
After an ambiguous opening number, the show gets off to a good start with the trio of Sophie, Ali and Lisa producing the first laughs of the evening with their female wit. It is at the arrival of Tanya and Rosie – played with aplomb by Kim Ismay and Jane Milligan – that the show goes from being ‘good’ to ‘absolutely-damn-hilarious’. The pure confidence, cheek and charm that the pair brings to the stage is a wonderful treat to behold. As soon as it seems that what they’ve said or done has reached the limit of being acceptable, they’ll throw another piece of unbelievable dialogue or action in your face. Whether it’s a crotch-grabbing dance step or a dialogue along the literal lines of “blow, don’t suck”, these two will certainly have you in stitches. The only thing I would liked to have seen is more use of Ali and Lisa throughout the show to represent a younger generation of females, inspired by Tanya and Rosie.
The far-fetched story of Sophie, a “curious girl about to grow” trying to find out who her real father is, may not be as engaging in the first act as in the second. However, the beautiful chemistry between Diane Pilkington and Richard Trinder – who play Donna and Sam – works wonders in the early stages of the second half of the show and adds emotional value to the story.
Pilkington has an ironically towering presence which is visible in her use of the stage, particularly in the scenes at the tavern. I enjoyed her ability to effortlessly change from the cheeky and frisky Donna to the motherly, caring one in a matter of seconds. Whilst some of the characters may seem irrelevant to the storyline, the actors do well to leave their mark on the performance. The other two potential fathers bring their own sense of style to the proceedings of the show; note the very funny image when Donna meets her previous lovers all at once. The use of the young men in the show emphasizes the idea of ultimate female power. Whilst they do provide eye candy for the audience members, they are always shown as inferior to the women; seen [very] explicitly, in ‘Does Your Mother Know’.
A simplistic open-close set with swift prop movements mean that you are never left with awkward pauses; something that I’ve found happening more recently in other shows. The energetic songs are appropriately matched by colourful, disco-like lights so credit to Lighting Designer, Howard Harrison.
The standout aspect of the musical is most certainly the relevance, placement and execution of the ABBA hits. Every song has its reason for being where it is. Whether it’s the angry nature of ‘Money Money Money’, the entertaining steps of the ‘Dancing Queen’ or the deep content of ‘The Winner Takes it All’, the songs are in context to the storyline and I imagine this is the biggest challenge when creating this type of show.
The most important thing to remember when watching Mamma Mia! is that the show is not over, until it’s over. An absolutely wonderful ‘post-show’ concert where the wardrobe team most definitely had their work cut out. Every member of the audience, including myself, was on their feet at this point; even an urban kid wearing a snapback cap was waving his hands and digging the dancing queen.
In a section of the programme notes, producer Judy Craymer writes “In a world where everyone’s completely battered by news, it’s nice to feel we’re offering some escapism” and with this in mind, I would strongly recommend that you go, and let go!
Review by Sahil Jon
Book Mamma Mia! musical tickets for the Novello Theatre in London’s West End.
5 Aldwych, London, WC2B 4LD
Monday to Saturday Evenings: 7.45pm
Matinees: Thursday and Saturday 3.00pm
Running Time: 2 hours 20 minutes
Age Restrictions: Suitable for ages 5 and over.