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Mamma Mia! review at Prince Edward London

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The fact that shows now have to be manufactured to fill large theatres has never been better demonstrated than by Mamma Mia!, which bears its marketing plan boldly before it; a couple of years in the West End, a long tour and perhaps a summer season at Blackpool Opera House.

If this sounds cynical, it is because this is probably the most shamelessly manipulative show I have ever seen. Take the songs of Abba – 22 of them – think of a story to write around them and hire some top guns from the theatre to put it together.

This one has the virtue of being relatively economical as well. Mark Thompson’s design budget runs to little more than erecting two portable Greek-style buildings which can be shifted easily around an empty stage. Howard Harrison has been given rather more leeway to use state of the art lighting equipment. Even the cast is not gigantic, and Anthony Van Laast’s choreography is well within the compass of well-drilled singer/dancers.

Catherine Johnson’s book sounds as if it might have been written by a committee, with its story of a single mother, who has a profitable hotel and restaurant business on a Greek island, being faced, on the eve of her daughter’s wedding, with the arrival of three middle-aged chaps, any of whom might be the girl’s father. Any comedy potential in this situation is quickly stifled by the imminence of yet another song, the links between them being contrived in such a fashion as to bring gasps of delight from an audience enchanted with the sheer effrontery of it all.

Nevertheless, the cast attacks the lame material with gusto, Siobhan McCarthy being particularly good as the mother who first encountered the island, on which a Greek is nowhere to be seen, while she was the leader of a seventies cabaret act. She is far and away the best singer, with Lisa Stokke, as her daughter, proving that even a BA (Hons) degree from the Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts is no guarantee of star quality.

Louise Plowright and Jenny Galloway have some bright moments as Donna’s erstwhile singing partners, and of the putative fathers Hilton McRae is the only one with any character. Even though I cannot imagine what made that serious-minded director Phyllida Lloyd take on this assignment, it must be admitted that she does an excellent job.

PS: I suspect it will run for years.

This show was reviewed prior to the website launch. A new review may be pending.

Production Information

Prince Edward, London

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