Touring – reviewed at Edinburgh Playhouse
Guest reviewer: Martin Gray
It’s not just one of us who was pleased to have Mamma Mia! back on the Edinburgh Playhouse stage – an air of expectation and excitement filled the entire auditorium for the show.
As the new touring production opened in Edinburgh for a major jaunt around the UK, it appeared the show had morphed from a brilliant ABBA jukebox musical to a hen night event, with whooping and clapping along aplenty, and the random laughter only a few cheeky glasses of wine can explain.
Thankfully, this wasn’t quite the cackling, cavorting Dirty Dancing crowd – and this show’s a heck of a lot better than that one.
For those late to the party, Mamma Mia! convenes Sophie, raised on a Greek island by her single mother, and about to wed the oddly named Sky. She doesn’t know who her father is, but a sneak peek at mother Donna’s diaries shows there are three suspects (she had a busy summer…). Tracking down Sam, Bill and Harry, Sophie invites them to the wedding at her mother’s tiny taverna, assuming she’ll instantly know her dad. Think again.
It’s a classic sitcom set-up, one Shakespeare would have loved, and the cast play it for all it’s worth, wringing the laughter and tears out of the situation, with groups of three to the fore. As well as the potential parents, there’s Sophie and her bridesmaids, Sky and his sidemen… even Donna has a pair of pals join her on the island.
And it’s these gals, Tanya and Rosie, who bring the ABBA visuals, dressing up in the old Bacofoil flares for a reunion of their old girl group, Donna and the Dynamos. Their Super Trouper is fun, but the costumes don’t come out again until the megamix encore… For the rest of the show it’s summer frocks, suits and shorts to aid that Greek sunshine vibe.
But the ABBA tunes keep on coming. Too speedily, to be honest – the songs barrel from one to another, with no time to let the stirred emotions settle – it’s almost a sung-through musical. The one exception is ‘Winner Takes It All’, as the painful end to Donna and Sam’s relationship of 20 years previously is recalled.
Sharon Sexton as Donna gives a master class in selling a song theatrically, living the drama as she builds to the crescendo, holding the title line for all its worth. It would be easy to go over the top, but Sexton nails it, and for once the production doesn’t almost immediately segue into another hit. We get to breathe as the applause goes on and on.
Sexton salutes her homeland by playing the role in an Irish accent, giving Donna a full-throated warmth the part as written lacks – she seems more fully human than brittle. As Sophie, Emma Mullen is pretty good, managing to make her character – described affectionately as a ‘minx’ but actually a wee bit selfish and manipulative – more than bearable.
As Tanya and Rosie, Helen Anker and Nicky Swift get the real crowd-pleasing moments, playing their parts big, but believable. Anker is a hoot in Does Your Mother Know, playing the comedic cougar for everything she’s worth as James Willoughby Moore, as smitten hotel helper Pepper, shows off some terrific acrobatic dancing. And Swift has a ball persuading Jamie Kenna’s terrified Bill to Take a Chance on Me, chasing him around the church.
Another outstanding number is Voulez-Vous, as the ensemble fills the stage with perfectly timed claps, mirrored by the sharp lighting. And Our Last Summer, as Harry and Donna reminisce, is wonderfully sweet, never saccharine.
an assured production
The opening is a bit confusing if you’ve checked out the programme, because it says we’re three months away from the wedding as Sophie posts letters to her potential pops – but her pals arrive immediately and she says everyone has accepted the invitation and the wedding’s but a day away.
Nicky Swift, Helen Anker, Sharon Sexton.
Once the first act begins, though, everything plays straightforwardly, in an assured production. The flippable taverna set and lighting evoke the likes of Mykonos nicely and the sound is splendid for every song bar Lay Your Love On Me, in which the lyrics aren’t as audible as they should be.
Overall, though, this is a great time; from the dads (Kenna, Daniel Crowder, Rob Fowler) to the adaptable ensemble players via the orchestra, everyone knows what they’re doing and does it it very well indeed.
The producers of this revival tour haven’t tinkered with the formula perfected by original director Phyllida Lloyd, choreographer Anthony Van Laast and their creative team, but deserve credit as even the most well-oiled machine needs maintenance.
Catherine Johnson’s book has been slightly tweaked for the times, but Mamma Mia! has a script that works – as jukebox musicals go, it’s among the classiest… Johnson works the brilliant pop songs of Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus into her tale with intelligence and eminently forgivable contrivance.
And then there’s that aforementioned megamix, which is hugely appreciated given the appropriately quiet note on which the main action ends – magical.
If you’ve never seen Mamma Mia!, show or film, go. If you’re a Mamma Mia! aficionado, you should go again. How can you resist it?
Running time: Two hours 35 minutes (including an interval)
Edinburgh Playhouse, 18 – 22 Greenside Place, EH1 3AA. Phone booking: 0844 871 3014
Thursday 19 – Saturday 28 September 2019
Tue – Sat Eve: 7.30pm; Thurs 26 & Sat Mats: 2.30pm; Sun 22 Sep: 3pm.
Tickets and details: Book here.
MAMMA MIA! on tour:
19 – 28 September 2019
0844 871 3014
4 – 20 October 2019
La Seine Musicale, Paris
30 October – 23 November 2019
01274 432 000
10 December 2019 – 5 January 2020
Bord Gais Energy Theatre
0818 719 377
22 January – 8 February 2020
08448 11 21 21
11 – 29 February 2020
The Mayflower Theatre
3 – 21 March 2020
01482 300 300
24 March – 4 April 2020
0115 989 5555
7 – 25 April 2020
0844 871 7648
28 April – 9 May 2020
08448 713 017
12 – 30 May 2020
0844 338 5000
2 – 20 June 2020
0844 871 3012
23 June – 11 July 2020
The Marlowe Theatre
21 July – 8 August 2020