A world away from the Prince of Wales Theatre, Mamma Mia! has now transferred to the Novello Theatre just off Covent Garden. Many questioned the transfer. Could such a change of setting work for this jukebox ABBA musical? In a simple response, yes! As expected the house was packed with a diverse audience from teenagers to 40s and above, this is truly a show that has reached the masses and built a loyal fan base.
The last (and first time) I saw Mamma Mia! over a year ago, it was towards the end of the run for the 2011 cast and to be completely honest it showed. The production was simply lacking any emotion that a cast could inject into the jukebox classics. A relatively weak Sophie and a seemingly bored cast led to poor viewing. But this simply couldn’t be said for the new cast during their first week at the Novello Theatre. To start with, the acoustics and sound design are brilliant and compliment Charlotte Wakefield brilliantly as she opens the show with a beautiful arrangement of ‘I Had A Dream’. Charlotte’s no stranger to the role having recently completed the international tour of the production and it shows throughout. Her vocals soar with such ease that it is a joy to hear again and again, she shines in the role and then some, ‘The Name Of The Game’ was beautifully pitched. When her two best friends played by Abiola Ogunbiyi and Tasha Taylor Johnson enter they bring great energy throughout the piece leading a fresh faced ensemble.
Leading the ‘older generation’ is Sally Ann Triplett (Donna), Joanna Monro (Rosie), Kim Ismay (Tanya), James Gaddas (Bill Austin), Gary Milner (Sam Carmichael) and Stephen McGlynn who was brilliantly covering the role of Harry Bright. The story as I’m sure you all know follows Sophie inviting her three possible fathers to the Greek island of Kalokairi for a wedding in the hope that she can work out who her biological parent is. Her fiancé Sky is portrayed by Andreas Gyllander who brought something new to the role with an extremely posh edge on the character (whether or not this is the correct choice for the role I am not sure but time will tell).
Mamma Mia! takes its audience on a family friendly journey through love and parenthood through the songs of such Abba classics as ‘Waterloo’, the hilarious ‘Take A Chance On Me’, ‘Money Money Money’ and of course the title song ‘Mamma Mia’. The audience provide a familiar chuckle with every lead into one of the classic numbers as they settle into the more over the top moments of the show. Stand-out supporting cast members have to go to Liam Doyle and Stephen Oliver who make the most of their roles, Sam and Pepper, they were a joy to watch time and time again (‘Does Your Mother Know’ and ‘Lay All Your Love On Me’ were some of the highlights).
Considering the scale of the previous set, the new design by Mark Thompson which is scaled down for this transfer, smoothly moves through various transitions with the help of costumed stage crew. Lighting by Howard Harrison didn’t transfer as strongly, with some cast members being left in the shadows during any scenes that weren’t centre stage (though this could be teething problems as the cast come to terms with finding their new light). Anthony Van Lasst’s choreography moves fluidly on a stage that must be at least a third smaller. ‘Under Attack’ was extremely tight, but they just about made it with a cast that is 30 strong.
All in all my views of this show have massively changed and it deserves to do well at its new home which I doubt it will have any trouble succeeding in. It’s amazing what a fresh cast can do and if you want an easy, enjoyable night out. Mamma Mia! is a show that will definitely provide an enjoyable evening for even the harshest critic.
Mamma Mia Review by John Webb Carter
Friday 14th September 2012