Vivienne Kennedy reviews Mamma Mia, playing at Bristol Hippodrome until 7th May
I first saw Mamma Mia when the international tour visited Bristol in 2007; I loved it. Then, in 2008, the film came out; I loved that too and I’ve watched it countless times since. Now, for the very first time (amazingly), there is a UK tour, it opened in Bristol a few days ago and last night the red carpet was out for press night – guess what? Yep, I loved it!
The film cast have become so familiar that I worried the show would seem odd without them – silly me. Meryl, Amanda, Pierce, Colin et al were forgotten within moments of the curtain going up, their places reclaimed by a bunch of incredibly talented musical theatre stars.
I also worried that I might miss the gorgeous setting of the film, the island of Skopelos that stood in for the fictional Kalokairi, home to Donna’s taverna. Again, silly me; Mark Thompson’s designs for this production transport you to that Aegean idyll just as successfully.
Mamma Mia tells the story of Sophie, a young bride-to-be, who is determined to find out the identity of her father in time for him to give her away. There are three contenders, discovered through reading her mother’s diary from a passion-filled summer 21 years ago. Sophie invites them all to return to the island, convinced that she’ll know which her father is as soon as she sees him.
Really though it’s less a story about paternity as it is about the strong bond between mother and daughter and it’s beautifully told, thanks to writer Catherine Johnson, whose first playwriting success came when she won a Bristol Old Vic competition.
Producer Judy Craymer and director Phyllida Lloyd complete the triumvirate of women responsible for the show’s success but of course there are two men to whom we must say Thank You for the Music (see what I did there?) and they are Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus of ABBA who have certainly brought us joy in abundance with songs such as Super Trouper, Voulez Vous, SOS, Dancing Queen, Chiquitita and Take A Chance On Me; the latter two providing some of the show’s funniest moments.
Led by Sara Poyzer and Lucy May Barker as Donna and Sophie Sheridan, the cast is very strong. I particularly enjoyed the performances of Richard Standing, Tim Walton and Christopher Hollis as Sam Carmichael, Harry Bright and Bill Austin and of Jacqueline Braun and Emma Clifford as Donna’s best friends and former backing singers Rose and Tanya.
They were ably supported by the ensemble and I can’t not mention one person in particular – local lad Jacob Fisher, who I met 10 or so years ago when he took some of his first dance classes at a school in Worle where I was the receptionist. He graduated from Arts Ed. just last year, already has several professional theatre credits to his name, and, I predict, will go far, proving to us all that dreams can come true (if you work hard to make it happen).
It’s almost impossible to pick out a favourite moment from a show packed full of them but towards the top of the list must come two of Donna’s songs from Act Two – Slipping Through My Fingers (which will always make me cry, no matter how old, or how married, my own daughter is now) and Winner Takes It All, which Sara Poyzer sings so beautifully. I also loved Voulez-Vous, the energy-filled finale to Act One.
Mamma Mia plays at Bristol Hippodrome until Saturday 7th May and, apart from those tears I just mentioned, it’s pretty much guaranteed to get you grinning from ear to ear and you will be up on your feet dancing by the end – if ever a show deserved the description “feel good”, it’s this one. I can’t recommend it highly enough.
For further information, including performance times and ticket prices, and to book online, visit www.atgtickets.com
Emma Clifford (Tanya), Sara Poyzer (Donna Sheridan) and Jacqueline Braun (Rosie) in Mamma Mia! Photo by Brinkhoff Mögenburg