Culture critic Ruth Horsburgh is thoroughly impressed by an excellent and joyful touring production of the hit musical, Mamma Mia!, a show featuring the iconic, feel-good music of ABBA.
Amidst all the Euro-related gloom of the past week, Mamma Mia! at the Birmingham Hippodrome is a – dose of much-needed light relief. Humorous, playful yet moving in parts, this production captured the array of emotions felt between friends, family and lovers – as drama unfolds on an idyllic Greek Island. Be it for a cheesy dance routine, a sing-along in the shower or a poignant ballad, you can’t go wrong with the popular hits of ABBA.
For the very few who may be unfamiliar with the basic story of Mamma Mia!, we follow the fortunes of Sophie who is about to get married. But while all her wedding preparations are taking place on a sun-drenched Greek isle, she continues to search for her father, so he can walk her down the aisle. From reading the old diary of Donna (Sophie’s mother), it seems that there are three potential candidates, Sam – the thoughtful architect, Harry – a friendly banker, and Bill – an experienced explorer, as is humorously explained in the song ‘Honey Honey’. Sophie invites all three men to the island, and knowing that her mother would not approve, tries to keep their presence a secret. But her best laid plans soon go awry.
With a seamless set, terrific live music, and clever lighting to support mood changes, this story of love, lost and found, was excellently brought to life by the cast.
Sara Poyzer was the standout member of the company, bringing humour and fun to the role of the independent matriarch Donna. Funny and exuberant as she was, Poyzer particularly shone in the more moving parts of the story. I’m sure ‘Slipping Through My Fingers’ brought a lump to the throat of the mums in the audience, while the most poignant moment in the story was her rendition of ‘The Winner Takes It All’. On the lighter side, some of the funniest moments were provided by Donna and the Dynamos. The engaging trio of Donna, Tanya and Rosie, were achingly funny, especially when they relived their glory days through ‘Chiquitita’ and ‘Dancing Queen’.
The spirited Sophie was admirably played by Lucy May Barker. Her sweet fiancé, Sky, was excellently portrayed by Phillip Ryan. Sky’s friends, Eddie (played by Sam Robinson) and Pepper (played by Louis Stockil), added even more cheekiness to the show.
The party atmosphere hit fever pitch as the ensemble cast performed ‘Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!’ and ‘Voulez-Vous’. With raunchy routines and plenty of topless men strutting around the stage, this was a moment for the skilled ensemble singers and dancers to take the limelight.
Throughout the entire show, there was an infectious mix of upbeat dance numbers and emotional ballads. ‘Does Your Mother Know’ was a raucous highlight of the evening, with one third of the Dynamos, Tanya, (who was stylishly played by Emma Clifford), teasing the foolish Pepper. Stockil’s incredible dance moves and gravity-defying leaps throughout this number definitely deserve a special mention.
Richard Standing gave a commanding performance as Sam Carmichael, with a touching rendition of ‘Knowing Me, Knowing You’. Tim Walton was charming and endearing as Harry Bright, and Christopher Hollis was entertaining as the Aussie Bill Austin. Hollis’ duet of ‘Take A Chance On Me’ with Jacqueline Braun’s loveable and lusty Rosie, was a naughty pleasure to watch.
Vocally, the stage performances trounce their film-star counterparts (no offence, Pierce Brosnan), as was to be expected of such a talented and professional company. As the cast took their plaudits, the audience were up on their feet, singing, dancing and clapping along to ‘Waterloo’ and ‘Dancing Queen’.
If our cheerless summer weather and our European woes are getting you down, look no further than this excellent production for an instant injection of summer fun and frolics. The feel good factor permeates this production from start to finish. I defy you to leave the theatre not humming at least one of the many catchy tunes.
Mamma Mia! is at the Birmingham Hippodrome until September 3rd.
For more information and to buy tickets, please visit: http://www.birminghamhippodrome.com/calendar/mamma-mia/