REVIEW: Mamma Mia (Novello Theatre)

Our last summer show was the suitably summery MAMMA MIA!. This has been on our list for a while so we were head over heels to get Kids Week tickets. Despite being born in the 80’s, Mummy spent much of her childhood obsessed with ABBA. So much so that her neighbours once threatened to call Environmental Health if Mummy and Auntie Poppins didn’t stop singing ABBA songs in the back garden. Mummy admits that this memory may not be strictly accurate, as there is a possibility that they were, in fact, re-enacting the Sound of Music on this particular occasion. But the point still stands that she spent a lot of her formative years singing Swedish songs of the seventies on swings. (She also apparently enjoys sibilance.) Mummy is delighted to have passed this onto the munchkins, who spent most of their summer holidays belting out ‘Pray(!) All Your Love on Me‘ from various pieces of playground equipment.

With both MAMMA MIA! films being firm family favourites, it’s perhaps something of a surprise that this trip was also a first for Mummy and Mrs Mummy. Admittedly they did see it on Broadway about 10 years ago, which Mummy believes to be the genesis of her deep distrust of jukebox musicals. But having subsequently been disabused of her other conclusion that Broadway is a second rate West End, and (whisper it) rather enjoyed some jukebox musicals recently, Mummy reckoned she should probably give MAMMA MIA! a go again.

For those who have somehow never seen either the film or the stage show MAMMA MIA! is a feel-good tale of family and female friendship, set on a Greek island and filled with the wonderful works of Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus. (For those who inexplicably also don’t recognise those names, Benny and Björn are the Bs of ABBA. On which note, Mummy feels that computer keyboards should come with a backwards ‘B’ , so that she can write ABBA appropriately.) Hearing these songs live on stage really highlights just how good – and difficult to sing – they really are. And with ABBA songs typically written from a female perspective, it is perhaps unsurprising that the stage show is very much a story of strong women.

Leading lady Mazz Murray is an excellent Donna, showcasing her versatility with an emotional ‘Slipping Through My Fingers‘ and powerful ‘The Winner Takes it All’. Quaver has declared that she is just as good as Meryl Streep. Supporting Donna as the Dynamos are Kirsty Hoiles (Tanya) and Ricky Butt (Rosie). Hilarious together in ‘Chiquitita‘, their interactions with the male characters provide some of the standout moments of the show. Hoiles brings the house down with a raunchy ‘Does Your Mother Know?’ (one of the few ABBA songs originally written for the men, but gloriously subverted for the stage show). Butt chasing Stephen Beckett’s Bill around the church chairs during ‘Take a Chance on Me‘ is also liable to leave the audience falling off their own chairs with laughter.

The joy of MAMMA MIA! is that it’s a fun show that doesn’t take itself too seriously. And this light-hearted approach really works on stage in London in a way that Mummy found it didn’t all those years ago back on Broadway. It’s a great night out and easy to see why audiences have been flocking to it for over 20 years. But it also has a positive message at its heart. It’s a great one for children because, unlike so many other stories they come across, there is no bad guy. The drama centres around Sophie’s search for her father (who could be one of three), and her need to understand where she comes from. As an adoptive family, this is an important talking point for our children. The resolution of this storyline also reinforces the message that there are many ways to form a family, with biology only being one piece of the puzzle.

The munchkins don’t usually offer their opinion on a show unprovoked. When we do ask for their feedback, their default response is “good”. But as soon as the curtain went down for the interval, Crotchet declared MAMMA MIA! to be the “best show ever”. Quaver concurred. Despite the late night, both sang along enthusiastically at the curtain call, dancing in the aisles while the music still went on. And continued on and on and on all the way home.

RATING: Raindrops, Whiskers, Kettles and Mittens (aka 4 out of 5 of my favourite things).

MAMMA MIA! is booking at the Novello Theatre until 7 March 2020

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