The rebel in me was rising up.

All a bit corporate, big business, massive machine and all that. Look at it! Played everywhere in a Zillion countries! Always on in at least seven cities around the world! Cannot fail!

So I sit down, ready to be quite picky and grumpy. There must be something wrong with this show, something I can hang a bit of resentment on.

The orchestra starts. About two chords in, I am back in the land of guilty pleasures. This is Abba music, live. Close your eyes and listen and remember what consummate composers they are. Even while the woman in the seat behind almost dies in a coughing fit, hopefully due solely to excitement. Vain hope.

The success of this show is well documented and I have no need to analyse that here. But to see the show, and enjoy it, helps to understand that great shows do not come easy, are not just some kind of star vehicle, but need to be crafted, created and refined with huge effort and meticulous detail. There is no cruising to success for the cast of this hit. There is a hard working and faultless ensemble of skilled and talented performers who make every show a special event, who have developed every nuance and gesture so that wherever you may look onto a busy stage you will see a winning performance, a heartfelt and energetic and dazzling performance.

The brief for the show’s writer Catherine Johnson was to create a contemporary, ironic romantic comedy built around the unchanged lyrics of the most popular of the Abba songs. While this could have ended up hopelessly contrived, MAMMA MIA! pulls off this challenging brief perfectly. It gives us a show with strong female characters leading the action while winning our hearts. It has comedy, tragedy, pathos in spades. It is also a stage musical with sharp timing so there are some astonishingly swift mood and loyalty switches along the way.

The glossy programme exudes the confidence of the producers, and has bigger surface area than many of the floorplans of modern Norwich apartments. The glossy photos of the show around the world confirm that the details matter, and are just right. Careful and beautifully crafted costume design gives us characters that we seem to know already, with a nice balance between holiday casual and showbiz stage glamour.

Each of the four female principals are at the top of their game – Helen Hobson as Donna, Lucy May Barker as her daughter Sophie are superb and former Dynamo stagemates Rosie and Tanya are given great depth by Gillian Hardie and Emma Clifford. The male leads include the three potential daddys to Sophie, Sam, Harry and Bill, brought alive by Alex Bourne, Jamie Hogarth and Christopher Hollis, and some stunningly energetic young men, the most eye-catching being Louis Stockil as the highly athletic waiter Pepper.

This is modern musical theatre at its best, and nobody will leave the theatre downhearted or disappointed – not even a grumpy old reviewer like me. If you are lucky, there may be one or two seats left, but don’t hesitate. This is the show that sets the benchmark for musical theatre today, with the highest standards of showmanship and production. But more importantly it is just great fun, a joyous evening of silly romance and superb singing and dancing.

So take a chance and make your date with MAMMA MIA! Life is too short for regrets.


©Julian Swainson



MAMMA MIA!, Tuesday, February 28 to Saturday March 25, 2017. Eves 7.30pm, Mats 2.30pm on Thur 2, Sat 4, Tues 7, Thur 9, Sat 11, Thur 16, Sat 18, Tues 21, Thur 23, Sat 25. Tickets £8-£55. Discounts for Friends, Over 60s, Under 18s, Groups. Caption Performances: Thur Mar 9, 2.30pm, and Thur Mar 16, 7.30pm. Audio Described Performances: Sat Mar 18, 2.30pm, and Sat Mar 25, 2.30pm. Signed Performance: Sat Mar 18, 2.30pm. BOX OFFICE 01603 630000. For more info or to BOOK ONLINE