One of my earliest musical theatre memories was seeing Mamma Mia! in London with my family about 15 years ago. My parents have always enjoyed ABBA’s music and they introduced us to their albums at a young age. I remember repeatedly singing ‘Thank You For The Music’ as a child, getting the lyrics wrong and making my parents laugh. The group was a big part of my childhood and this only increased after seeing the stage show in London and the subsequent 2008 film.
This week Mamma Mia! is in Canterbury as part of its UK and International tour. Bringing the atmosphere of the Greek Islands to Kent, Mamma Mia! is a theatrical celebration of ABBA’s hits, told through the perspective of spectacular characters Donna and Sophie Sheridan. Made into a household name thanks to Meryl Streep, Pierce Brosnan and Julie Walters, the stage adaptation is drawing crowds to The Marlowe Theatre for the next two weeks, offering locals and visitors the chance to see the smash hit musical in their own area. Tuesday evening was the musical’s press night and I was extremely fortunate to receive an invitation to the event. I was excited to see the musical again after such a long time and also share the experience with my mother-in-law, who was seeing the production for the first time.
Less is more – film vs stage show
It goes without saying that the stage production is more stripped back than the film version, with its raw vocals, focus on ABBA’s emotional lyrics and simple Greek taverna set. The film is a hundred minute party on beautiful Skopelos and every group musical number is a huge dazzling spectacle. In my opinion, it was great to see the original source material take things back to basics, focusing on smaller groups of characters and their relationships, rather than turning everything into a huge showbiz display. By following this approach the energy of the lively songs was by no way compromised, it just gave the performers a chance to really show off their vocal and comedy talents. If you are somebody that prefers the over-the-top energy of the film, you will not be left disappointed as everything goes out of the window in the finale, paving the way for a giant celebration and sing-a-long.
From the wave effect lighting on the show curtains to the gorgeous fairy lights at the hen party, I was in awe at the production’s lighting design. The designers helped amplify emotions throughout the performance, altering the mood of the taverna to fit with the storyline.
Dreamy purples and blues dressed the taverna for the night before the Wedding scenes, taking us back to the disco era. On the other hand, in moments of high tension between characters, bold colours and block shadows were used to create drama. Act two focuses on Donna’s relationships with her former partners and the tension between herself and Sam was heavily enhanced by the red spotlights on stage. Conversations with Bill and Harry were lit in neutral tones, reflecting the more amicable relationships she has with them.
The role of Sophie Sheridan is played by Jena Pandya and she has such a sweet and pure voice. From the first few notes of ‘I Have A Dream’ I was wowed by her singing, not losing sight of the vocal complexity of ABBA’s music. The arrangement of ‘Thank You For The Music’ with Sophie and Harry (Daniel Crowder) at the centre was absolutely lovely, showcasing how much joy music can bring. This acoustic version was my favourite song in the tracklist.
Sara Poyzer was also a force to be reckoned with as Donna and she led the company with so much conviction. Donna is an incredibly difficult role to play as you have to be able to command the stage, make people laugh and reach the demanding vocal heights of ABBA. I had goosebumps in ‘The Winner Takes It All’, as she poured twenty one years of pent up heartbreak into three minutes.
The overtures at the start of acts one and two were a welcome addition to the musical. Featuring medleys of ABBA’s greatest hits, it was the perfect way to build the atmosphere in the theatre’s auditorium and also showcase a beautiful medley of the group’s much-adored tracks. It reminded me of the movie musicals of the past, with their grand openings that enticed audiences of what was to come.
The finale was my favourite part of the performance, with the entire auditorium on their feet for three of ABBA’s most upbeat numbers. Donna, Sam, Rosie, Bill, Tanya and Harry donned their lycra dynamos suits and partied until the curtain came down. It was ten minutes of pure fun, where the audience could forget about real life for a brief period and experience the pure joy that is ABBA’s music.
Until Tuesday evening, I had forgotten how much Mamma Mia!* is still a key player in the theatre world. Running since 1999, it is popular with all ages and a guaranteed evening of fun. May the production continue to bring ABBA’s music to future generations of theatre goers for many years to come. The show is playing at The Marlowe Theatre until Saturday 10th September and a few remaining tickets are available on the theatre’s website.
Thanks for reading my blog today.
Love Kat xxxx
*Our tickets and programme for Mamma Mia! were gifted in exchange for a review of the performance.