Our Verdict: The audience loved it so much they leapt up and danced at the end
Our Rating: 8/10
I had a really awkward moment at the end of Mamma Mia! when I realised I was the only person in an almost 2,000 seater theatre who did not like the show. As everybody else in the auditorium was on their feet singing and light-entertainment clapping away, my bemused friend shouted above the sound of happy dancing people “Don’t you like Abba?” Well yes I do, but I found Catherine Johnson’s utterly bonkers book implausible and grated on a single parent who is bringing up children on a rainy estate quite happily.
I also did not like the blasé attitude brushing over the harsh reality, deep upset and sense of grief that affects children who genuinely do grow up not knowing their father.
But with its somewhat stereotypical characters, toe tapping songs and the threat of on coming ‘feel good’ from a sound guy taking no chances from the outset, the mega loud overture packed with Abba classics sent the audience straight into party mode.
Twenty year old bride-to-be Sophie Sheridan tries to work out who her dad is the day before her wedding. It’s an interesting 90s throwback that now seems quaint in a world of instant Facebook.
Inviting three potential contenders she has discovered after rifling through her mother’s diary, ends up stirring painful memories for her mother Donna and ultimately sets Sophie’s big day off on a different tact.
There are some fantastic numbers in this energetic show and I did like the dancing guys in flippers against Howard Harrison’s Mediterranean feel lighting.
Sara Poyzer as Donna Sheridan is the star of the show, wringing some genuinely emotional moments out of scenes with Richard Standing as Sam Carmichael (The Winner Takes it All).
The action moves very fast but she manages to create a plausible character we can laugh and empathise with, dealing with the awkward feelings of a much loved ex walking back into her life. Her fabulous vocals make the numbers both party tunes and musical theatre where necessary.
She is backed up brilliantly by her sidekicks Emma Clifford as the Sultry Tanya and Jacqueline Braun as bubbly Rosie. The scenes they appear in together are some of the best. Clifford is fabulous with the number Does Your Mother Know.
The first half feels like watching somebody else’s hen do from behind the bar sober. That would be a compliment to the fine performances, which is miraculous given the at times stereotypical characters and little time the cast have to work with.
Final Act One number, Voulez-Vous was outstanding, with brilliant direction and effective choreography by Anthony Van Laast. It created great tension through the portrayal of a hectic 90’s beach bar but also the confused mess Sophie has found herself in.
Act Two was the hangover from the night before and where most of the dramatic tension appears. The wedding of Sophie to Sky interestingly is not the real story of Mamma Mia! It’s about everybody else. Though I’m definitely not buying the casual acceptance and cheque waving to Dad Shock. At that point, I’m definitely out.
But if you like Abba and love an incredibly upbeat Friday night musical theatre feel then you will love Mamma Mia!
It’s at The Bristol Hippodrome until Saturday 07 May 2016