Since premiering in London in 1999, Mamma Mia! has, of course, become a global phenomenon. It has just opened in Moscow - performed in Russian - and I’ve seen it myself everywhere from San Francisco to Stockholm. I suppose you could call me a fan - but then the secret of its success, I’m sure, is that it cleverly conscripts everyone in the audience, old and young, male and female, into feeling an ownership of it.
It’s not just that the insistently memorable Abba soundtrack has provided a commentary to our lives for so long that it’s now embedded into the national musical consciousness but also the way that Catherine Johnson folds these songs into a new story with universal points of identification for everyone, whether it be of youthful romance, failed relationships or the perils of parenting that makes it speak to us all too. And if that’s still not enough, it’s all been bundled into one of the most infectiously happy productions imaginable that you can’t help to be drawn into it.
But the undiminished pleasure of seeing it yet again is that, wherever in the world it is being done, there is also a great deal of integrity given to the physical experience of the show, from the wonderful realisation of Mark Thompson’s sun-streaked design to the excellence of - most of - the casting. In the show’s Manchester premiere, Jackie Clune is astonishingly good in the lead role of Donna - she’s able to combine the tough, gritty attack of a musical theatre performer with a genuine pop sensibility that makes her one of the best I’ve seen in this role. There are also strongly individualised turns from Cameron Blakely, William Brand and Jeffrey Harmer as the former men in her life, while Katie Brayben is a touching, warm presence as her daughter Sophie, about to marry Craig Adams’ dashing Sky.
It’s a pity that Joan Walker’s Tanya can’t hit the right notes, in any sense, as Donna’s friend Tanya, but Morag Siller does better as Rosie.