Review: Mamma Mia! (King's Theatre Glasgow)
Updated: Jul 28
The beloved musical, unchanged after 23 years, arrives in Glaaasgoooow...
Mamma Mia! is one of a long list of classic musicals I have never seen. Wicked, Phantom of the Opera, Les Misérables, Cats, West Side Story, Hairspray, Little Shop of Horrors, and so on. With most of these, it’s simply a case of having not grown up going to musicals. But in the case of Mamma Mia!, I have been avoiding it. For those who are somehow unfamiliar with this show, the plot centres on mother Donna (Sara Poyzer) who had a wild summer twenty-one years ago, three men who haven’t seen Donna for twenty-one years, and Donna’s twenty-year-old daughter Sophie (Jena Pandya) who decides to figure out which one of them is her father the night before her wedding. Based on the music of Abba, the popularity of Mamma Mia!’s soundtrack meant that I was subjected to on repeat as a child, and I cultivated an overzealous resentment for the musical and avoided watching it at all costs. It is only now, at the ripe age of 22, that I am finally at the point where I can watch the Jukebox musical with an objective, critical eye.
(Photo Credit: Brinkhoff/Moegenburg)
But my mission to experience the musical as a blank slate, detached from the enthusiasm of its fan base, failed immediately. Before every number, there is a rumble of anticipation amongst the crowd. As soon as a beloved character (of which there are many) makes their entrance, there are cheers before they have even said a thing. The final applause was the longest conclusion to any show I have ever seen, featuring at least three repeated numbers with the whole audience standing and singing together in unison. In other words, there is simply no way to watch Mamma Mia! in a British theatre without being affected by how much love people have for this show.
And that love for the musical isn’t just in the audience, but very clearly on stage too. Pandya plays Sophie with a fondness for the character and the songs that shines through in her performance. She is careful to bring out her character’s confidence as well as her uncertainty, all without overegging the more emotional scenes. The same is true of Poyzer; her character is fun, progressive, and vulnerable, and god is it rare to find a character like that, particularly one who is a woman over the age of thirty-five. Poyzer’s singing talents are not to be overlooked, as she demonstrates that she has the perfect voice for spine-tingling numbers like “The Winner Takes It All”, the song that inspired the musical to be written in the first place.
Indeed, the musicality of the songs plays a big part in what has kept this show from becoming stale. It is jam-packed with crowd-pleasing numbers with exciting choreography and excellent vocal performances. You barely have a moment to feel sad that "Chiquitita" has come to an end before “Dancing Queen” lifts your spirits once again. Even a weird dream sequence featuring the less-adored “Under Attack” is fun enough to make up for the fact that it doesn’t contribute to the plot in any meaningful way. It is also held up by the timelessness of the setting; its bare feet and blue tie-dye surrounded by white-walled villas under a perfectly cloudless sky. You can practically feel the sand between your toes.
I often find the state of musical theatre to be stale, not for lack of talent but rather the persistence with which theatres and theatre-goers cling to a handful of favourites, instead of programming new work or reviving forgotten treasures. But if we are to hold on to some long-standing musicals, and preserve them with little-to-no interference from production to production, I am glad this is one of them. Four stars.
Whispers from the Crowd: "Fuckin' Fabulous!" "It's the first show I've ever seen that got everyone up and dancing. It was the best ending I've ever seen!"
Mamma Mia! will run at King's Theatre, Glasgow until 11 June
(Photo Credit: Brinkhoff/Moegenburg)