A
 
Web www.artsmart.co.za
A R T S M A R T
arts news from kwazulu-natal

music
www.artsmart.co.za
enquiries@artsmart.co.za
 A current news
crafts - dance - drama - film & tv - literature
music - supper theatre - visual arts
miscellaneous news - festivals
letters to the editor
home page
archives A
crafts - dance - drama - film & tv - literature
music - supper theatre - visual arts
miscellaneous news - festivals
 

NB: as of 23 September 2008, all new artSMart articles are being published on the site news.artsmart.co.za.

MAMMA MIA! (article first published : 2005-04-4)

A few days ago, I was able to catch one of the last two performances of Mamma Mia! at ICC Durban before the company came to the close of its South African season.

Initially, I have to admit that it was more curiosity than anything else that took me to see what all the fuss was about. After all, 20 million people around the world have seen the show. Some 72,000 saw it in Johannesburg. ICC Durban seats 2,600 and the season was full for virtually every performance with five extra shows packed in before the close of the run (Hello, is this the Durban I know?)

I’m really glad I juggled a frantic schedule and went to see it because otherwise I would have missed out on one of the most enjoyable and professional productions I have seen for a long time.

Producer Judy Craymer met Björn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson, the male counterparts of ABBA who also wrote the Swedish group’s songs, while working for Tim Rice when he was collaborating with them on the musical Chess. In her own words, she was “immediately smitten” and it was the ABBA song The Winner Takes it All (sung with intense feeling and power by Aileen Donohoe and Cameron Blakely in the performance I saw) that inspired her to look at the potential of an original musical using Benny and Björn’s distinctive compositions.

Judy sat on the floor of her apartment listening to ABBA’s records late into the night, identifying lyrics that would work in a dramatic situation without producing a musical where the cast burst into song for the sake of having a song to sing. A year later, she approached writer Catherine Johnson to produce a story that was a “contemporary, ironic, romantic comedy”. The next step was to find a director and she made a superb choice in Phyllida Lloyd whose strong dramatic base has resulted in cleanly-drawn characterisations that are believable and identifiable.

For a setting they chose a Greek island and Mark Thompson designed a set that features a strong, almost military looking but highly versatile structure shaped like a ship’s funnel that divides and moves to create different scenarios. Wavy blue lines adorn side panels giving the feel of the surrounding sea and Howard Harrison’s lighting design is highly effective and uncluttered. Andrew Bruce and Bobby Aitken’s sound design was faultless and every theatre sound engineer and technician in Durban should have seen the show to appreciate its correct placing.

Musical supervisor Martin Koch was given access to the original ABBA tapes to see how the music was put together. This has resulted in an authentic ABBA sound and the songs form a natural part of the action. In fact, the show has been so skilfully constructed that to anyone not knowing the history of the production, it would seem as if the story came first and the music was written specifically for the show!

The story is simple, the dialogue is full of delightful lines, the scenes work to maximum effect, the costumes are colourful and attractive, and Anthony van Laast’s choreography is robust and unpretentious.

Making an adorable and spunky Sophie Sheridan, Emily Dykes immediately gains the audience’s affections in her frantic search to find her real father in time for her wedding. She goes through her mother’s diary, discovers the names of three possible candidates and invites them to the island for the event. Her mother Donna - a stunning performance by Aileen Donohoe - is naturally astonished to be reunited with former lovers: the macho good-looking Sam (Cameron Blakely winning many female hearts!); good-natured Harry (John Langley) and outdoors man Bill (Ulrich Wiggers).

Supporting Donna during this crisis are the two other members of her former girl group, Donna and the Dynamos. Providing much of the humour was the delicious Joanna Monro, who also had a hilarious sequence with Ulrich Wiggers when they discover they are attracted to each other, and tall elegant Helen Hobson as the much-married fashion plate Tanya.

And Sky, the husband-to-be in the middle of this debacle? None other than the engaging Michael Xavier, who provided much amusement in the scene of the morning after his stag party. Also notable were Sophie’s two bridesmaids played by Jayde Westaby and Kaisa Hammarlund while Barnaby Thompson impressed as Pepper.

Mamma Mia! was presented in South Africa by Big Concerts in association with SABC2, Jacaranda 94.2, KFM 94.5 and East Coast Radio in support of Unite Against Hunger. The British cast I saw goes back to Paris for a while, after which they have a break for a couple of weeks and then go off on tour again. If you can get to see them - or any other cast anywhere around the world - don’t miss the show! For more information go to www.mamma-mia.com – Caroline Smart




 A current news
crafts - dance - drama - film & tv - literature
music - supper theatre - visual arts
miscellaneous news - festivals
letters to the editor
home page
archives A
crafts - dance - drama - film & tv - literature
music - supper theatre - visual arts
miscellaneous news - festivals
a co-production by caroline smart services and .durbanet. site credits
copyright © subsists in this page. all rights reserved. [ edit ] copyright details  artsmart