Review: Mamma Mia, Sunderland Empire

A MYTHICAL Greek island and its colourful inhabitants are the setting for a much-loved musical being staged at Sunderland’s Empire Theatre this month.

Loved by audiences worldwide, Mamma Mia! Is now bringing a touch of sunshine – and ABBA’s back catalogue - to the North-East.

The award-winning stage show centres on young bride-to-be Sophie Sheridan and her mother, Donna, as they prepare for a white wedding, their trials and tribulations along the way encapsulated in the songs of the once-ironic but now cherished Swedish pop act.

In a strong performance as Sophie, Lucy May Baker gives voice to the young woman so desperate to identify her father that she invites three prospective candidates to her wedding without her mother’s knowledge, sparking a comedic and occasionally poignant performance from Donna - played by Helen Hobson – as she contends with the arrival of three ex-boyfriends.

Mamma Mia! is a rare find in a musical in that it brings with it plum roles for older women, paying as it does fond tribute to the middle-aged and their memories of youth gone wild.

As such, Donna and her former bandmates Rosie and Tanya – Gillian Hardie and Emma Clifford – are given free rein to steal the show, pouring seemingly boundless energy into uplifting renditions of tracks like Dancing Queen and Chiquitita as they outshine their younger counterparts at every turn.

Despite turning in faultless performances, their male equivalents – Sophie’s three ‘dads’ are played by Peter Saul Blewden, Christopher Hollis and Jamie Hogarth - prove almost drab in comparison to the vibrant trio but finally come to life in a sparkling costumed finale.

The younger members of the cast – playing the friends of the bride and the groom, Sky – bring memorable laugh out loud moments, from one young man’s attempted seduction of Tanya to a hilarious dance routine courtesy of a tribe of half-naked men in wet suits and flippers.

You don’t have to be a fan of ABBA to enjoy Mamma Mia! but a love of their kitsch hits can only enhance the experience of seeing what amounts to a lively sing-a-long led by a talented cast and underpinned with a poignant tale of friendship and family.

Mamma Mia! is at Sunderland’s Empire Theatre until Saturday, November 11.

Joanna Morris