donna and the dynamos 

Donna and the Dynamos: Emma Clifford  as Tanya, Helen Hobson  as Donna and Gillian Hardie as Rosie - a part excellently played by Rebecca Seale on Press night.

Mamma Mia!

Wolverhampton Grand


When it comes to musicals this one really is a question of Thank you for the music. For those of a certain age Abba were a part of youth, a part of growing up, of coming of age, their feel-good music providing drug free highs for a generation.

There are probably few people of, should we say, more mature years, that don’t have an Abba Gold CD somewhere in their collection while DJ’s have Dancing Queen as a go to track to get people on their feet at weddings and celebrations.

So wrap a tale around Abba’s back catalogue and you are on to a winner, and what a winner. Since it first opened in 1999 the show has been seen by more than 60 million people worldwide – roughly the equivalent of every man, woman and child in Britain – in some 440 cities.

The music drives it along with songs - 26 of them if you count the encore-  so well known it is almost a singalong at times. The story is simple. Donna runs a Greek taverna and her daughter, Sophie, is getting married and not only that her offspring has decided, secretly, to invite her estranged dad . . . but which one. There’s the rub.


The dads: Chris Hollis as Bill Austin, Jon Boydon as Sam Carmichael and Jamie Hogarth as Harry Bright.

 There are three contenders, architect Sam, Aussie travel writer Bill and wealthy banker Harry – Donna, it seems, was a . . . busy girl some 21 years ago; Knowing me, knowing you – the Biblical version.

So she invites all three. One wonders what a Sillitoe or an Osborne might do with a plot like that, but we are not looking for tense social drama here, just a simple, easy to follow book from Catherine Johnson to wrap around Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus’ glorious songs.

Her real skill is working the songs into the script as if they were written for the show, making Mamma Mia! a cut above the average, pack-the-songs-in  jukebox musical. It gives the production real heart.

The song connection, incidentally, comes from the fact Donna was once lead singer of girl band Donna and The Dynamos and the dynamos, Lisa and Tanya, arrive for the wedding.

Lucy May Barker, last at the Grand as Ado Annie in Oklahoma!, reprises her role of Sophie on the last tour and exudes innocent charm as well as a pleasant voice while Helen Hobson gives us a sort of quiet, blonde, attractive mom and taverna owner, happy to be an ex-pop queen, with a comfortable, unspectacular life and a daughter about to get married.

The first act is all a bit frantic, with a lot to get in, setting the scene for all the arrivals of dynamos and dads, as well as fiancée Skye, played, as on the last tour, by a very Scottish Phillip Ryan. But Hobson comes into her own after the interval with some lovely duets and solos including one of the show’s highlights with arguably Abba’s best number, The Winner Takes it All.

Then we have the dad squad, led by the serious Sam, played by Jon Boydon, who displays a fine voice. He was perhaps the serious one back in the day as well. Then there is Harry, played by Jamie Hogarth. Apparently old Harry was a bit of a headbanger in his youth and Hogarth has his moments and a pleasant voice. Donna was the first . . . and last woman he loved.

Finally, we have Bill, a sort of travel writer with a hint of Crocodile Dundee, travelling the world with his rucksack and Christopher Hollis, like Lucy May Barker, in the show’s last visit to the Midlands, gives his character an element of fun – and even gets tamed by Dynamo Rosie, played on Press night by Rebecca Seale. If we hadn’t been told, we would not have known she was an understudy, she was that good. Fine voice and plenty of sparkle and her Take a Chance on Me with Bill had the audience going in seconds.


Tanya, played by Emma Clifford, gives a little bit of advice to Louis Stockil's Pepper

The other dynamo is Tanya, thrice married and thrice divorced and wealthier each time, sexy and cynical in equal measure, played with a man hunteress charm by the wonderful Emma Clifford. If sex had a voice it would sound just like Clifford, she has the sort of suggestive tones which are sultry and seductive and although she is perhaps not the show’s best singer in a conventional sense, it is a voice that certainly makes her the most interesting.

There is good support from the ensemble, especially Louis Stockil as Tanya’s would be lover boy (toy boy edition) Pepper. Both incidentally in the roles they played when Mamma Mia! last toured.

But the real star of the show is the music played with an authentic sound by the seven-piece band under long time musical director Richard Weedon. Mark Thompson’s flexible set, rotating trucks to provide bedrooms, taverna and courtyard, helps scenes flow into each other, and, allied to Howard Harrison’s skilled lighting design, brings a taste of Greece to wherever it lands.

Anthony Van Laast’s choreography is lively and interesting – love the flipper dance – and Phyllida Lloyd’s direction gives the whole production a well-paced, light-hearted feel and, one suspects, hides a lot of work that went into creating the illusion of a light touch.

It all ends with an Abba themed singalong ending with the song that started it all - Eurovision, Brighton, 1974 – Waterloo.

Its, frothy, feel-good entertainment whatever your age, and as I said at the start, Thank you for the music. To 24-02-18

Roger Clarke


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