Even if you haven’t seen Mamma Mia! – either the stage or 2008 film version – there’s not much element of the unknown going into a production of such magnitude and reputation as this. It’s Greece; it’s a girl getting married; it’s three possible fathers. It’s ABBA music. And that’s all you need.
The plot is undoubtedly ridiculous. Spend any longer than half a minute really thinking the premise through and you’ll already have destroyed the whole thing. However, the makers probably always knew that no one would really care about the storyline after the first song is done. By the time Honey Honey is finished it’s last cheery notes – and if not, certainly by the end of Thank You For The Music – we’ve mentally jetted off to the fictional Greek island of Kalokairi via Sweden, ready to be mindlessly entertained for the night.
From here on in, even most of the dialogue (especially between young Sophie and her fiancé Sky) becomes irrelevant. The songs zoom in one after the other, reminding us just how great ABBA’s pop catalogue actually is. Each time we think we’ve surely heard all the big hits, another begins. It’s also affirming to notice that at the musical’s core is women. And not women only in their twenties. The who’s-the-father story strand isn’t even what the audience ends up caring about. It’s the camaraderie of Donna, Rosie and Tanya that gets the warmest laughter and the crowd on their feet for the finale.
Slightly off-putting are some of the already-dated “jokes”. It’s easy to forget that the show began its run almost twenty years ago, but even in 1999, were the repeated unwanted sexual advances of moronic playboy Pepper ever that funny? He grabs at various body parts of older woman Tanya and the audience seems forced to laugh along every time. Even Rosie’s predatory advances on Bill in the empty church lap up the crowd’s cackles, but consider a reversal of genders and it does seem a tad creepy…
Nonetheless, a worldwide phenomenon like Mamma Mia! will sell tickets no matter what. Audiences know what they’re in for and won’t be disappointed with the spectacular music. The post-curtain call sing-along/dance-along affirms this as the cast treat us to an encore of some of the show’s highlights along with one of the biggest ABBA songs that doesn’t even feature in the main show! The story’s done, the plot reached it’s climax, but really the audience are thankful for the music.