Review: Mamma Mia! Fun with a capital F for dancing queens and super troupers

Helen Anker as Tanya, Sara Poyzer as Donna and Nicky Swift as Rosie in Mamma Mia!
Helen Anker as Tanya, Sara Poyzer as Donna and Nicky Swift as Rosie in Mamma Mia! Helen Anker as Tanya, Sara Poyzer as Donna and Nicky Swift as Rosie in Mamma Mia!


Mamma Mia!

Grand Opera House

ON Tuesday morning, I caught Catherine Shaw's wonderfully deconstructed slow version of Abba's Lay All Your Love on Me on BBC Radio 3.

And that evening I heard the bouncy, up-tempo original in a pretty cracking production of Mamma Mia! now filling the Grand Opera House. What's great about this creation - that became the movie - is the way the story is much more than something to string together Abba's greatest hits.

They were great, but so is Catherine Johnson's narrative which opens with feisty single mum Donna Sheridan and her daughter Sophie facing different futures. Twenty-year-old Sophie (Jena Pandya) is opting for marriage to Sky and a more conventional life.

But first - who's her daddy? This key question has absorbed the girl all her life and Donna has never told her, although her intimate diary reveals three likely candidates.

Enter the middle-aged guys, Sam, Bill and Harry, delightfully performed by Richard Standing, Phil Corbitt and Daniel Crowder respectively.

But the music is the generator. This is an exuberant show, pleasing squillions of people since 1999, and you're happily reminded of the world class songwriting skills of Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus.

Sara Poyzer, as our liberated lead Donna, was superb in terms of acting, singing and sheer oomph as she darted about in those dungarees. She belted out Money, Money, Money and other numbers with ease.

Unfortunately, Ms Pandya's voice wasn't always up to the task with some sharp and flat notes, most noticeably where she sang solo in an exposed version of her final song, I Have a Dream. Unfortunately, Anni-Frid is still singing that beautifully in our heads...

But this was fun with a capital F. Sitting next to me, Denise Watson and her daughter Beth (14) from Lisburn are both fans. Denise said: "I first saw this in London 20 years ago and it's still amazing. What's also great is the message that Donna doesn't need a man to bring up her daughter and succeed."

The feminist message comes across with a bit of flair and self-deprecation, especially via Donna's two female friends from the old days, Tanya (Helen Anker) and Rosie (Nicky Swift).

In fact, some of the classic hits work best when they're gently played around with and almost sent up. Rosie and Bill had a naughty, romantic sequence to Take A Chance On Me, rolling about at one point like the teenagers they still feel inside.

There was emotion, a beautiful wedding dress, a swapped wedding, the happy ending. The set was appealing, Phyllida Lloyd directed well, then the whole theatre enjoyed a boogie as the cast, in some outrageous costumes, offered us a chance to relive our youth.

There is something joyous, even slightly innocent, about the Abba catalogue and it kept a full theatre distracted from the headlines for a great couple of hours.

:: Mamma Mia! runs at the Grand Opera House (goh.co.uk) until November 26.

Jane Hardy