This isn’t a sponsored post.
BrumHour was invited to see Mamma Mia at the invite of Birmingham Hippodrome.
By Eleanor Lawson twitter.com/elle_lawson
Review: Mamma Mia! at Birmingham Hippodrome
Mamma Mia is A MUST SEE
Directed by Phyllida Lloyd, music and lyric by Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus, book by Catherine Johnson
Parents pass on many things to their children: genes, heirlooms, bad habits, and in most cases, an all-consuming love of ABBA.
ABBA Gold is a staple of households around the world, and was the soundtrack of my childhood. The same can be said for my boyfriend and nearly all of my friends, who could stage their own production of Mamma Mia between them if they needed to… provided I’m cast as Sophie. So it’s fair to say that ABBA is more than just a band – it’s a cultural institution.
I’ve never felt more certain of this than when I arrived at the Birmingham Hippodrome for the media and press night of Mamma Mia. It felt like the entirety of the second city had congregated for one night to have a massive camp party.
Although Phyllida Lloyd’s stage musical pre-dates the smash hit film, it’s difficult for a cast to try and make a story their own when the audience knows every line and every cadence of the film like the back of their hands. (For example, Meryl Streep’s DhuO YOU WANT ay-NOTHER ONE, when she gears up the audience for Waterloo). However, I was overwhelmingly relieved to find that the musical does not sit in the shade of the film. Certain actors are missed, certainly, but the cast does a remarkable job of making the characters their own.
The revelation of this touring production is undoubtedly Jena Pandya as Sophie. It seems frankly unfair that this is Jena’s second job out of drama school, having made her professional debut at Birmingham Rep last autumn in What’s New Pussycat? Sophie is the beating heart of Mamma Mia. While other characters have bigger laughs and more memorable lines, it’s Sophie who we yearn, hope, and dream with. Right from her first lines of I Have A Dream which opens the show, we’re hooked on her every word, waiting with bated breath to see what will come of her search for a father. She’s full of heart, humour, and joy, particularly in the company of her bridesmaids – played with effervescent glee by the excellent Mariella Mazzilli and Jasmine Shen. With her stunning vocals and relentless endearance, Jena is the knockout star of the whole show.
However, anyone on stage with Helen Anker has to work hard to match her brilliance. Following in the footsteps of the legendary Christine Baranski, Helen takes on my favourite character in the story – Tanya. Confidant of Donna and Rosie, Tanya is a woman who loves the finer things in life and burns through men quicker than Zsa Zsa Gábor. In many ways a resemblance of Samantha from Sex and the City, Tanya is so refreshing because she’s a woman on stage who is confident, sensual, and assured in her own sexuality, while also supporting the women around her – not tearing them down. Helen’s Tanya is a hybrid of Christine Baranksi and Marlene from Only Fools and Horses. Her delivery is exquisite every single time and her performance of a teasing cougar in Does Your Mother Know? is the highlight of the whole show. The visual humour in Take A Chance on Me is also howl-inducing.
What intrigued me whilst watching the stage performance was how British it felt compared to the Hollywood film. This isn’t just a surface-level difference of accents. Every character in the film is reminiscent of a British stereotype. Sam, Bill, and Harry are emblematic of the British dad, while Donna is the image of the stereotypical northern mother. Skye is perhaps the most striking character in relation to British tropes, with the persona of a university rugby captain from the home counties who likes banter with the lads and relies on his dad’s credit card.
For anyone who loves ABBA, Mamma Mia is a must-see. Before the show started, the Hippodrome’s new Artistic Director and CEO, Jon Gilchrist, said:
I believe the Hippodrome brings joy to Birmingham like nothing else. We’re proving Birmingham with the best and most joy-inducing entertainment anywhere in the world.”
It’s hard to disagree with performances like this.
The love that people have for ABBA and Mamma Mia is not a love that exists in isolation. It is a love that is shared with mothers, fathers, siblings, and children. With friends and lovers and workmates. The bond between Donna and Sophie has always spoken closely to the relationship I have with my mom, which has made me treasure the musical even more.
For countless fans, Mamma Mia resonates by reminding them of the Saturdays they spent dancing around the living room with their parents, and that’s why this musical is so special.
Mamma Mia is at Birmingham Hippodrome until 14th May 2022.
Mamma Mia’s UK and International Tour currently continues until 15th April 2023. See the tour dates here: mamma-mia.com/#uk-and-international-tour. See what is coming up at Birmingham Hippodrome here: birmingham-rep.co.uk/whats-on.