Mamma Mia Review Prince Of Wales Theatre
Sophie Sheridan – Jessie May
Donna Sheridan – Linzi Hateley
Tanya – Harriet Thorpe
Rosie – Catherine Russell
For most shows, when the band begins the overture, it’s expected that the audience might fall into a respectful hush. Does this happen at the Prince Of Wales? No, far from it, in fact as the sounds of ABBA begin to full the auditorium, the audience becomes excitable, noisy chatter increases and there is even the sound of women quietly singing along to the rich tones of the Mamma Mia orchestra. The theatre is full of patrons aged thirty-five and above, smiles all over their faces as they clap jubilantly along with their old favourites. I will admit that I am not a big ABBA fan, but even I couldn’t help but grin as I let the music take hold. Looking around, the atmosphere is infectious.
As the overture fades away, the curtain rises to a young lady on the stage, gazing dreamily into the distance. The audience waits for her to utter the first notes of ‘I Have a Dream’ but unfortunately, as she opens her mouth to sing, rather meek voice comes out. On first impression, her vocals are little thin, and while her stage presence is lovely and her mannerisms perfectly suitable, I was left feeling a little flat after the rousing overture. We soon learn that this is Sophie Sheridan, played by Jessie May, and as her friends enter the stage, it becomes clear that she is preparing for her wedding day. May definitely improved throughout the show and the opening number is by no means the limit of her talents. Sophie’s friends are a welcome addition to the opening of the show, we learn the characters’ backgrounds and see a nice solid friendship between the three girls. All three actresses work well together and you feel that you are watching a group of girlfriends on the stage. Sophie has a revelation for her friends, she has discovered the possible identity of her estranged father, he is one of three men from her mother’s past…all of she has secretly invited to the big day.
The moment when the whole show lifts dramatically is the entrance and introduction of Donna Sheridan, Sophie’s mother, and her two life-long friends Tanya and Rosie. These three middle-aged women (with attitudes of twenty-year-olds) are possibly the most comical trio I have seen in Musical Theatre. They are full of energy, naughty, raucous and generally fabulous! My favourite is undoubtedly Tanya, played by Harriet Thorpe. Every time Thorpe came on to the stage, the cheeky glint in her eye didn’t ever fail to get the whole audience laughing. Her vocals were strong and not dissimilar to those of a jazz singer of the 1940s. Catherine Russell, who plays Rosie, brings genuine fun to the role. This actress shows no inhibitions as she really lets herself go on stage. Crazy dancing and a good deal of man-chasing is involved towards the end!
Linzi Hateley played Donna Sheridan very well, with dry humour, and an obvious love and concern for her daughter. Donna is living her dream of owning a tavern on a remote Greek island, we can see that she is an old free-spirit who has had to take on some responsibility with birth of her daughter Sophie, raising her independently. I liked everything about this character, but unfortunately Hateley sang great deal of the songs with a strong nasal tone to her vocals. This was more apparent in songs in the higher register, so perhaps this was a way for her to reach notes at the top end of her range. I really do not want this to put anyone off seeing the show however, as Hateley is a wonderful actress and really held the show together. Her stage presence and spirit shone through in the musical numbers even if her voice didn’t quite suffice. ‘Mamma Mia’ is sung with all the tension and conflict Donna feels, and her duet with one of Sophie’s potential Dad’s Sam, ‘S.O.S’ is very strong. ‘Money, Money Money’ was also excellent, and the first time the audience sees the rest of the ensemble cast.
Sophie’s three potential fathers all add a touch of comedy to the show. Each is a complete contrast to the next and all eventually realise why they have been summoned to the island of their past jaunts. Bill Anderson; an Australian adventure-man (with an occasional accent slip), Harry Bright; a bumbling Englishman with slightly camp overtones, and Sam Carmichael; an intense Scotsman with a dark seductive appeal, are all delighted to believe they are Sophie’s father. I personally was rooting for Sam to be the one, but no-one actually discovers who Sophie’s real father is in an unexpected twist to the plot.
One of the most enjoyable scenes in Mamma Mia is Sophie’s Hen Night. Firstly, Donna, Tanya and Rosie reform their old band, Donna and the Dynamos for the benefit of the bride-to-be. Singing ‘Super Trouper’ they dress up in ABBA inspired costumes and entertain both the audience on the stage and in the auditorium. The party really gets into the swing of things with ‘Gimme, Gimme, Gimme’ in which we see the ensemble show off what they’re capable of. One of the most highly energised dancing ensembles I’ve seen, I was very impressed with the majority of the cast’s dance ability. Sophie’s trepidation closes Act 1 with ‘Voulez Vouz’, which was another number I greatly enjoyed, and showed me that Jessie May is a very talented performer.
Act 2 flies by (as does most of the show actually) and had an equal amount of pros and cons for me. You really see here the relationship between mother and daughter and I found these scenes very touching and realistic. On the other hand, some of Sophie’s angst and worries begin to take an immature turn and her conversations with husband-to-be Sky and her potential fathers, Sam in particular, become almost tantrum-like. May plays the innocent a little too much here and plays Sophie a little too young, she is after all supposed to be getting married. This is a shame, as in the scenes with Donna, she comes across as mature and sincere, and has a much more likable personality. Norman Bowman, who plays Sam, develops his character from being a intense, moody character in Act 1, to being a sensitive, caring potential father in Act 2. He is the most likeable character at the end and as I said earlier, I was rooting for him to be Sophie’s real father!
A few words must go to those I haven’t mentioned much. The male ensemble, in particular Sky’s friends are wonderful. In various states of dress, undress, beachwear and hilarious outfits, they caused riots throughout the audience. Pepper in particular, played by Alex Jessop, has his own moment to shine when he makes advances to the older woman Tanya. In one of the show’s most entertaining numbers, ‘Does Your Mother Know’, he and his friends show a great deal of comic timing and skill. The bridegroom, Sky played by Joshua Sasse doesn’t give the audience much to get their teeth into. He shows of his ripped body more than his sincere acting skills, he does play the likable character well, just not memorably.
So it may seem like I am critising Mamma Mia a lot here. Not at all, I enjoyed it, giggled along and found myself nodding my head to the catchy tunes. I just didn’t find it fantastic when I compare it to some of the other shows in town. You have to be a big ABBA fan to really enjoy it I feel, and I am not. The music is integrated well into the plot, however with contemporary musicals having music written specifically for the story, I felt Mamma Mia was lacking in something a little.
I would recommend Mamma Mia to anyone who wants a light-hearted night out. As I said, I didn’t dislike the show completely, it is definitely an enjoyable feel good show with a happy ending. Without revealing the end of the show for anyone who hasn’t seen it yet, I will just add…there is a twist, some more comedy…and 2 white dresses.
Plus a little sing and dance-along to finish off!
17th May 2011