Review: Mamma Mia! At The Novello Theatre

When I went to see Mamma Mia! – which has been in London for seventeen years, and is based on the music of the well-loved Abba – I expected to be very impressed. But, whilst the show was, undeniably, fun and very easy to watch, it was not as good as I had hoped it would be.

The main issue that I had with Mamma Mia! was the, presumably pre-recorded, backing singing which played over every song. When you go to see something live, you are, surely, looking for the authenticity of the stage: seeing people sing, as opposed to just hearing them; knowing that you are watching an entirely live performance. And, if the backing singing was in fact live, this should have been made far more clear.

Either way, this backing track detracted hugely from the show's main performers. At times, during songs such as 'The Winner Takes It All' and 'Slipping Through My Fingers', it was difficult to hear anything but this backing singing, which drowned out the voices of people who, when heard, sounded really excellent: Dianne Pilkington (playing the part of Donna), being a key example. I would have liked to have heard some more solos, particularly during those more intimate, personal songs.
On the topic of music, I also found the sound quality a little poor at times. This only really came across when the music was loud, but it was certainly noticeable.

Having said all of that, it was lovely to listen to the fantastic music of Abba. The energy, particularly during chorus numbers, was fabulous. This was made even better by wonderful choreography. I particularly enjoyed the appearance of wetsuits and flippers … The dancing within Mamma Mia! was certainly one of the main things that made it so fun.

As for set and props, the stage looked quaint and lovely throughout the show; this was topped off by the appearance of a singularly large moon at the end of the performance, descending onto (and filling) the stage. The costumes were, of course, very flamboyant, and great fun.

The cast were, overall, good but not exceptional. Some voices were slightly less impressive that you might expect at a London show, and some of the acting did come across as a little forced. The one really outstanding cast member was Dianne Pilkington, who was superb. She was funny, believable, and had an incredible voice.

There were, in my opinion, only two other people who stood out as particularly good. Gabriella Williams (playing the part of Sophie) brought a lot of energy to the stage, which was an absolutely necessary for this show. Mazz Murray (playing the part of Tanya) was extremely funny; her 'Does Your Mother Know' was a highlight of the production.

That is not to say that the rest of the cast were poor, because they were certainly not, but they were not exceptional. And again, when everybody was on stage, the overall effect was great. I did also particularly enjoy the scenes featuring Sky (James Darch) and his friends, who were a lot of fun, and who brought to the stage some great dancing.

Overall, I think that this production could be doing more – there is definitely room for more of a Wow-factor. As I discussed in a recent blog, West End shows do have to provide something surprising, and impressive, to be worth the expensive tickets, and I am not sure whether Mamma Mia! quite did that.

Nevertheless, I would recommend this show to Abba fans looking for a fun and light evening out. Mamma Mia! may not be flawless, but it was enjoyable. Mamma Mia! Is currently playing at the Novello theatre.

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