Mamma Mia! Birmingham Hippodrome, 04 May 2022 until 14/05/22, then on tour, 5***** . David Gray & Paul Gray

In terms of staging, this is a refreshingly simple show.  A blue backdrop with waves, fragments of white roughly plastered walls straight from a Greek Island that move around the stage to create acting spaces, and some simple bits of furniture lifted on an off by the cast.  So many shows around at the moment disappear under the weight of hyperactive sets and special effects.  This is a show that is happy to let an excellent cast, with some energetic choreography and, above all, the music do the talking.  And what music it is!

Between 1972 and 1982, super group, ABBA, were a hit producing phenomenon.  Mamma Mia!  takes some of ABBA’s best loved hits and shapes a story around them.  Of course, as in all jukebox musicals, a few of the situations contrived to accommodate specific songs seem just that, contrived.  And, yes, maybe some of the songs don’t quite fit the circumstances, even with their lyrics tweaked, but the show has enough aplomb to carry this off.

All in all, the match between music and drama works well.  At their best, ABBA’s songs are snippets of real life; answers to questions we haven’t heard, snatches from a conversation, or reactions to situations.  The stamp of truth is on them, which is why they work so well in a musical.

This is particularly evident in an Act II sequence of songs: Knowing me, Knowing You; Our Last Summer and Slipping Through My Fingers.  They all work perfectly in the context, illuminating the drama, revealing character, moving the psychological action along.  The sequence builds towards and culminates in The Winner Takes It All, the show’s climactic song.  Sara Poyzer digs deep, emotionally and vocally, to deliver a breathtaking, barnstorming rendition of this iconic number.

The cast bring bags of energy and fun, and the performances are appropriately larger than life while never losing sight of the characters’ psychological truths.  Jena Pandya as Sophie convinces as a young woman learning that her identity lies within her, not with who her unknown father is. Sara Poyzer and Richard Standing perfectly pace the developing ‘I hate you because I love you’ relationship between Donna and Sam.  Husband-eating Tanya, played with terrific swagger by Helen Anker, brings the house down, channeling her inner cougar, with a gender reversed Does Your Mother Know?

This is a great show which you can experience on many levels: a warm bath of 70s nostalgia, a jet wash of ABBA, or an engaging piece of feel-good storytelling with fabulous music. At the end, you will want to dance in the aisles, and you will walk away singing the songs.

Cast

Sophie Sheridan – Jena Pandya

Ali – Jasmine Shen

Lisa – Mariella Mazzilli

Tanya – Helen Anker

Rosie – Nicky Swift

Donna Sheridan – Sara Poyzer

Sky – Toby Miles

Pepper – James Willoughby Moore

Eddie – Corey Mitchell

Harry Bright – Daniel Crowder

Bill Austin – Phil Corbitt

Sam Carmichael – Richard Standing

Father Alexander – Martin Dickinson

Creatives

Director – Phyllida Lloyd

Choreographer – Anthony  Van Laast

Production Designer – Mark Thompson

Lighting Designer – Howard Harrison

Sound Designers – Andrew Bruce/Booby Aitken

Music & Lyrics by Benny Andersson & Björn Ulvaeus

Additional Material by Stig Anderson

Book by Catherine Johnson

2022 tour dates
Regent Theatre, Stoke on Trent – 7-21 May
King’s Theatre, Glasgow – 24 May – 11 June.
Bristol Hippodrome 14 June – 2 July.
Sunderland Empire – 5 – 16 July.
Bournemouth Pavilion Theatre – 20 – 30 July.
Milton Keynes Theatre – 2-6 August.
Brighton Centre – 16- 27 August.
The Marlowe, Canterbury – 30 August – 10 September.
Curve Theatre, Leicester – 17 – 24 September.
Venue Cymru, Llandudno – 27 September – 10 October.
Theatre Royal, Norwich – 4-22 October.
Lyceum Theatre, Sheffield – 25 October – 5 November.
Then in 2023 –
Belfast, Oxford, Wolverhampton, Manchester, Cardiff, Blackpool, Leeds dates to be confirmed.

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