Mamma Mia! at Leeds Grand Theatre: Only worth it for the keenest ABBA fan
Let’s start with the basics: three men receive mysterious invitations to a wedding on a remote Greek island they each visited over twenty years ago. All three men realise they all know (rather too well) the mother of the bride, Donna, who to their surprise didn’t send the invitation—her twenty-something daughter Sophie did. Her motive? Nobody’s quite sure. The men are clueless as to why they’re invited (seriously), and Donna’s none the wiser as to why three of her ex-lovers have ALL coincidentally shown up to the island the day before her daughter’s wedding.
Forgive me for crediting the characters in this musical (and the audience) with a little more intelligence… but it really shouldn’t take until the end scene for everything to come out in the open. Talk about several sandwiches short of a picnic, and this kind of gaping plot issue serves as just one of the irritating features of this show. The way songs are painfully shoe-horned into the text is almost laughable, and at several points I find myself whispering quips such as “I bet she doesn’t want to talk about it…” as, surprise, surprise, Donna Sheridan (played steadily by Helen Hobson) bursts into The Winner Takes It All.
The songs are incredible (obviously, it’s ABBA), and I can’t help but feel the show’s such a success due to people’s desperation to have a good old sing-along to these classic songs. The over-acted, squealing, bizarre backdrop to what’s essentially a showcase of ABBA tunes just doesn’t feel necessary (I mean, a dream sequence with dancers in flippers and fluorescent swimwear? Why?) It may be the direction and overall production of the show that misses the mark, but it goes a bit too far beyond cheesy for me to really enjoy it.
The vast majority of the cast are so irritating I’d cross the street to avoid them. The three potential Dads (not that anyone, including themselves, realises this until Act Two) are each lovely in their own individual way, however. I particularly like Jon Boydon’s calm and collected Sam Carmichael and the cute likeability of Jamie Hogarth’s Harry Bright. Christopher Hollis as Bill Austin works well with Gillian Hardie’s fun and friendly Rosie and I do like their Take a Chance on Me duet. Some of the songs, such as this one and classics such as Does Your Mother Know, are wonderfully choreographed and performed (and I also like them because they seamlessly follow on from the scene before). It’s no doubt a fun, flippant kind of musical that definitely (hopefully) doesn’t take itself too seriously. It certainly looks like the cast are having plenty of fun and the audience had loads of opportunities to sing and dance to some brilliant classic songs, which is what it’s all about… right?
In all fairness, the happy, cheesy ending did bring a tear to my eye and I haven’t stopped singing ABBA songs since we left the theatre so it certainly is a feel-good night for those wanting to let their hair down.
If you’re a strong ABBA fan and don’t fancy getting tickets for a tribute act instead (which I’m afraid to say would be my choice), get your Mamma Mia! tickets here.