Musicals are difficult to get right, especially when a Hollywood adaptation has become so dominant in people’s minds. Going to see Mamma Mia, you can’t help but think of Meryl’s heart-breaking rendition of ‘The Winner Takes It All’, or Pierce’s carefree stab at ‘S.O.S.’. But the stage is not the screen; and while a stage performance might not meet the million-dollar polish of a movie, it can still pack an enjoyable punch.
The current production of Mamma Mia at the New Theatre certainly does that in parts. The big numbers are an absolute joy: ‘Gimmie, Gimmie, Gimmie’ twirled us round in a hyped-up disco drama and ‘Money, Money,’Money’, near the top of the show, brought out the best in the ensemble.
Certain actors shone out also – all from the older generation it must be said. Emma Clifford and Gillian Hardie as Tanya and Rosie respectively were spectacular. True character actors, they avoided the trap of acting one way during the story and singing in another during their solos. Instead they provided a convincing and comically brilliant performance in speech, physicality and song.
And the band was great too. Offering some soaring guitar breakouts and great arrangements of the much-loved ABBA classics, they added real strength to the show.
All of that said, however, there were some weaknesses too. The narrative is stripped so bare as to remove any emotional build up in the storyline. The tension between mother and daughter, the long-burning candle between Donna and Sam – all of it is passed over so quickly that you lose the emotional depth that the songs could otherwise convey.
Some of the performances were distinctly wooden. Jon Boydon as Sam gave us very little and Phillip Ryan as Sky was distinctly out of key in his one solo during ‘Lay All Your Love on Me’. Apart from a few standouts, the cast sadly failed to dazzle and lacked the down-to-earth anguish and soaring thrill that ABBA’s wonderful songs can offer.
It’s important to say though, that everyone left smiling. The costumes were spot on, from early-morning hangover robe to all-out sparking seventies jumpsuit. Several of the solos elicited big cheers and ending on a reprise of ‘Dancing Queen’ and ‘Waterloo’ was always going to get people on their feet. It was certainly a fun night out: but like a lot of things in life, we didn't get the pleasure without a little pain.