Thursday, December 14, 2017


Mamma Mia. Music and Lyrics by Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus, some songs with Stig Anderson. Book by Catherine Johnson. Originally conceived by Judy Craymer. Additional material and arrangements by Martin Koch. Directed by Gary Young. Choreographed by Tom Hodgson. Musical supervisor Stephen Amos. Presented by Michael Coppel, Louise Withers and Linda Bewick. Canberra Theatre Centre. Premiere Nov 30.  Nov 24 – Dec  17. Bookings or 6275 2700.

Big opening night for Mamma Mia. Strong feeling of generations in the audience – families and mothers and daughters. Blue carpet, lots of glitz and glamour and free bubbly. 

Down in E row we nearly went deaf during the overture so loud was the music.

When it fortunately subsided the show revealed itself to be a most agreeable way to spend a pre Christmas evening, with the music of ABBA and the story of Donna (Natalie O’Donnell) and the three not altogether wise men, Harry (Phillip Lowe) Sam (Ian Stenlake) and Bill (Joseph Ber), one of whom is the father of her daughter, Suzanne (Sarah Morrison). But which one? Shenanigans all round for the unfolding of a mostly happy tale on a Greek island where Suzanne is about to marry the handsome Sky (Stephen Mahy). But she has cunningly invited her mother’s three old lovers in the hope of tracking down her paternity.

And that is it, really. What glues it all together is the sunniness of Swedish ABBA’s infatuation with characters further south who rejoice in names like Chiquita and Fernando. Suzanne, Donna and the three blokes, not to mention Donna’s old singing mates Rosie (Alicia Gardiner) and Tanya (Jayde Westaby), are also in love with the sunny south and all the performances are full of an on-holiday energy. Linda Bewick ‘s set and Suzy Strout’s striking costumes warmly reflect this.

One of the best things about Mamma Mia is the object lesson in how to design lighting using all the new fangled movers and gobos. It’s the gobos or patterns that are particularly well handled on a white Greek taverna set and every local director and LX designer should take note. The key is to soften the focus on the patterns and if they have to move it should be done subtlety. (Unless it is in a disco style number.)  Just watch what this show does with Gavan Swift’s lighting design and learn.

The same goes for scene changes.  There isn’t a single set change that holds the show up. They are smooth, they are funny, they advance the show. Sophisticated resources might be a help but it’s more a case of integration and ‘dancing’ the changes. Again, learn.

There’s only a few more days to catch this one before it goes round Australia. Never mind ABBA - who can resist a musical where one of the props is a set of bagpipes?

Alanna Maclean