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ABBA fans united as their jukebox musical ‘Mamma Mia!’ took it’s opening night bow at the Redcliffe Cultural Centre. Presented by Redcliffe Musical Theatre, this riotously camp musical, with its feel-good book and renowned score took to the stages amid whoops, cheers, and thunderous applause from the first audience of its season.
At this point ‘Mamma Mia!’ has almost as much fame as the band whose music inspired the story. From its inception on West End in 1999, the show has exploded onto stages around the world, and according to Wikipedia (the one true absolute correct source of journalism) there are at least seven productions of the show happening worldwide on any given day. Smashing records left, right, and centre, ‘Mamma Mia!’ has become a classic, offering up a production that will make even the rare ABBA-hater smile.
Helming the ship as it headed toward its Grecian destination, Madeleine Johns as Director kept things moving relatively smoothly. Although there were a few set changes that felt interminably long (watching the dock be bolted together and taken apart over and over again was not a show highlight) there is much to love about this production. Johns lets the cast’s personalities shine through and this brings so much pop and energy to the stage. There is perhaps a little too much ‘park and bark’ throughout, with leads simply taking their place centre stage and having a sing, but given the nature of some of the songs, and the way they’re clumsily pushed into the book, this is understandable. Overall, Johns should be credited for creating a production that audiences cheered, whooped, clapped, and sang along to.
The reasonably static set design by Jonathan Johns and Chantelle Duke kept the show anchored in the traditional Greek seaside villa. With multiple levels and the effective use of tables and chairs, Johns (Madeleine) successfully directed her cast to use this space well, which provided a visually engaging look and feel. Some of the bigger set changes into bedrooms, and down to the pier were longer, and while there were obviously safety issues with securing the pier these changes dropped the pace of the show considerably. It would be expected however, that these will tighten up once the season returns to stage.
Musical Direction by Helen Drew was overall successfully put together. The synth-heavy band lent very much back to the roots of ABBA’s music, and while some of it felt a little too MIDI, the orchestra overall kept pushing the show forward. Drew found a neat balance between working with the performers and letting their talent shine. A particularly notable moment was the absolute powerhouse vocals featured during ‘The Winner Takes It All’ which fully stopped the show.
There were some balance difficulties for the opening night performance, but these lay outside Drew’s control, and centred more on Peter Hurren’s Sound Design. The overture had significant balance problems with a handful of instruments being far louder in the mix than others, this settled by intermission. However, the orchestra was then quite a bit louder than the vocalists, which caused some of the punchy lyrics to be lost. Again, it would be expected that this will settle once opening night jitters are overcome.
Choreography by Meredith Johns and Giulia Bortolanza was a definite show highlight. Using the large ensemble well, the dancing always brought the energy up significantly, and was executed with obvious enthusiasm by the cast. Numbers like ‘Does Your Mother Know’ and ‘Voulez-Vous’ were genuine show stoppers and had the audience clapping along like mad. Johns and Bortolanza should be commended for the care given to allow each person to shine throughout, taking into consideration the varying skill levels amongst the ensemble.
Putting the Mamma in ‘Mamma Mia’, Meg Kiddle played a beautifully frazzled version of Donna. Bringing soaring vocals to bear on the iconic score, especially in ‘The Winner Takes It All’, which brought the show to a halt as the audience, rightly, roared their approval. Kiddle’s performance was gracious and thoughtfully put together, warmly working with her ensemble and leading them through the twisting story with light and ease.
As Donna’s dynamic sidekicks Tanya and Rosie, Melanie Fuller and June Tretheway respectively gave hilarious, often jaw-dropping performances. Fuller’s stage owning performance during ‘Does Your Mother Know’ brought the house down. Similarly, Tretheway’s bumbling, goofy Rosie was a crowd favourite, her campy performance of ‘Take A Chance On Me’ eliciting whoops and cheers from the audience throughout.
As the three father-potentials Sam, Harry, and Bill, Charlie Harrison, David O’Keefe, and James Reid were a hoot. While their vocal prowess was not always the strongest in the show their camaraderie and general affability was thoroughly endearing. Harrison, in particular had a style and swagger to him that made his relationship with Kiddle’s Donna particularly believable. Overall though, it was their work with their daughter-elect that really warmed hearts.
Georgia Burnett’s turn as Sophie utterly stole the show and ran away with it. Every scene she was in was filled with light and energy, driving the production forward and giving each moment a unique momentum. Her voice was crystal and she powered through the score with ease, putting her own spin on the ABBA classics while still holding true to the original intent. However, all of this aside, it was Burnett’s earnest portrayal of a girl seeking understanding and belonging that compelled her most to the audience, turning her character’s irrational choices into something anyone could empathise with. Her connections with gal pals Ali and Lisa (Tiani Rustam and Kayley Jones) was especially high energy and added much needed depth to the character.
In the role of Sky, Matt Leigh gave a spirited and thoughtful performance. Given not enough opportunity to showcase his pop tenor, it was a welcome addition to the evening whenever he did. His work with Burnett was ultimately believable, and their chemistry together was quite natural. Leigh was at his best though during the bachelor party scene, where the “boys” came and kidnapped him for one last night of debauchery.
The boys in question of course were Cameron Egginton and Zachary Crisan as Eddie and Pepper. These two raised hell whenever possible and were clearly having the most fun out of anyone onstage. Their charming, flirty, often hilariously over the top antics were some of the absolute highlights of the show. Crisan in particular really let his dance moves shine, taking every opportunity to own the stage and steal the spotlight.
The larger than life ensemble featured a host of performers of varying ages. This very much ticked the box for Redcliffe Musical Theatre’s goal to feature children in as many productions as possible, and provide an inclusive space for creatives of all levels of skill. With the chorus split into featured dancers and ensemble there was plenty for everyone to do, and opportunities for everyone to have a moment to shine. This was arguably one of the best parts of the show, the feeling of community coming together, and the audience reacted to it with fervor every time.
Honourable mentions must be given to the boat that ferried passengers back and forth to the jetty. It’s silent trips were uniquely charming, and it was a sweet touch to bookend the show. Another mention has to go to Elliot Hitchcock as the tiniest, and most captivating dancer around. Hitchcock enthusiastically hit his marks without prompting and was a wonderful ball of energy every time he was onstage.
‘Mamma Mia’ is a fun filled time at the theatre. With it’s feel good story, and a score that oozes appeal there is little not to enjoy about Redcliffe Musical Theatre’s take on the show. There is bound to be at least one song that becomes an ear worm and audiences will find themselves humming it mindlessly for days.
Due to the recent outbreak of COVID-19, and the Redcliffe Entertainment Centre closing its doors until June, ‘Mamma Mia’ will play out the remainder of their season in July For ticketing or additional information visit https://www.redcliffemusicaltheatre.com.
This article was edited by Benjamin Tubb-Hearne
Edit: this article mistakenly said that Ali was portrayed by Rose Robinson, which was incorrect and has been edited to be factually correct.
Article re-edited after Photography Credit was given.