Mamma Mia has played a huge part in my life over the years. I used to watch the film most Friday’s with my school friends. I’ve danced to ‘Voulez-Vouz’ on the top of a hill in the Lake District, watched my friend go through heartbreak to the soundtrack of ‘The Winner Takes It All’, sang ‘Chiquitita’ in a nightclub bathroom, and left for my first date whilst my housemates dramatically played ‘Slipping Through My Fingers’.
But somehow, despite being a Mamma Mia fan for over ten years, I hadn’t realised it was a musical first, and little did I know that the musical was not only better than the film but potentially the best musical I’ve ever seen!
I would recommend stopping reading this review now and buying a ticket, but if that’s not an option here’s a breakdown of a serotonin-filled evening at the Opera House.
The show opened with a medley of the songs by the band, showcasing their talent and immediately bringing the party atmosphere which would not stop for the next two hours. Whilst the show came first, most of the audience will have gone having seen the film, which could add an extra pressure, particularly without benefiting from beautiful backdrops and a celebrity cast, but the stage show provided more depth and backstory to a plot and musical loved by so many.
The chemistry was stronger on stage, particularly between Donna (Sara Poyzer) and Sam (Richard Standing), developing their relationship through ‘SOS’ and ‘Knowing Me, Knowing You’ songs in the second act (not limited by Pierce Brosnan’s singing ability!).
Donna’s relationship with Harry (Neal Craig) was more developed too, ‘Our Last Summer’ showed their platonic humorous friendship, dressing up and playfully dancing together, helping keep Donna calm before the wedding.
Rosie (Nicky Swift) and Bill’s (Phil Corbitt) characters appeared made for each other in the play, with their life plans so in line it made complete sense when their relationship culminated with a performance of ‘Take a Chance on Me’ just before the wedding. The slapstick fun of their song was incredibly performed by Nicky Swift, an impressive feat given how synonymous Julie Walters is with the role.
All of this showed the vision of the original playwrights, and their incredible talent bringing seemingly disparate ABBA songs together into a cohesive story, adapting the tone and performance to fit the plot. In Mamma Mia! the musical, rather than the seemingly sudden proposal by Sam, it seemed a natural next step after years of an untamed spark.
The majority of the additional songs added to the joy of the performance, and further developed the plot, but the opening dream number of the second act ‘Under Attack’ had the air of Grease’s ‘Beauty School Dropout’ but didn’t really work for me. ‘What’s The Name Of The Game’ was used to highlight the confusion of parental responsibility between Bill and Sophie (Jess Michelmore), but it didn’t really work for me, as it feels like a song which should be sung between partners not parents.
The ensemble was incredible, particularly coming into their own during ‘Lay All Your Love On Me’ and ‘Voulez-Vouz’. Through a combination of clever costuming – blue and white throughout – and energetic dancing, they brought the warmth of a Greek island to Manchester on a rainy February evening.
The named ensemble, Pepper (Jaden Oshenye), Edie (Archie Flynn), Ali (Tanisha Butterfield) and Lisa (Freya Humberstone) were brilliant, particularly during ‘Does Your Mother Know’. Tanya (Sarah Earnshaw) brought sass and authority to the performance (so much so that a button popped off her dress!) and the use of varying heights worked very effectively.
The set was for the most part simple, but largely effective. It was well transformed with lights during the Hen Do scene, but the closed wall set was one of few weak points of the staging, adding very little aesthetically and blocking off much of the stage space.
The costumes were incredible throughout, of course the spandex, ruffles and flares needs a shout-out, but the simple costuming of Donna taking off her robe to reveal a black dress to accompany Sam’s black outfit whilst she sang ‘The Winner Takes It All’ was a subtle but powerful addition to the performance. Sara Poyzer rendition of ‘The Winner Takes It All’ was the best I’ve seen, it almost brought a tear to my eye, the heartbreak and need to protect herself audible in her voice.
Poyzer’s performance was brilliant vocally throughout. She had brillant chemistry with Sophie and Sam, but at times lacked the lively youthfulness of the Donna on our screens.
In true Mamma Mia! style, the encore is everything you could want and more, and perfectly epitomises the whole production. The audience are treated to three final songs, where the cast and ensemble truly come into their own. It is here that the wardrobe department really excels with the final outfits for ‘Waterloo’, which I won’t ruin, but are certainly worth the wait. If you’re looking for an alternative to an extortionate Greek holiday, a time machine to the 1970s or waiting for ABBA to tour without the use of holograms, then a ticket to Mamma Mia! The Musical at Manchester Opera House is exactly what you need. Tickets are selling fast, get them whilst you can!