Mamma Mia! – The Playhouse, Edinburgh

Music & Lyrics by Benny Anderson and Björn Ulvaeus

Book by Catherine Johnson

Directed by Phyllida Lloyd

Choreography by Anthony Van Laast

Runs at Edinburgh Playhouse until September 28th

Well, my, my, my – just how much we missed you. The returning champion of the jukebox musical, Mamma Mia! brings the Grecian sun, drama and sensation to those Autumnal nights in Edinburgh.

We know the story, you know the story, we most likely all saw the movie with a few vinos – but for the unfortunate few who haven’t… Sophie, the bride to be, has an issue. Rather than walking down the aisle with the mother who has been raising her, Sophie turns to seek out her father – a person her mother has kept secret. Narrowing it down to one of three men, she decides to invite all of them to the wedding, what on earth could go wrong? It’s a story of redemptive love, carving your path – but vitally, a tribute to the music of ABBA and realisation of respecting what, or who, you have.

Now, we would be remiss in not extending praise of the highest honour to the powerhouse duo of two incredible women – and we don’t mean Donna or Sophie. No, the real marker of Mamma Mia! lies in capturing the dynamic duo of Tanya and Rosie. Helen Anker and Nicky Swift propel the production from the moment their timing and glorious harmonies showcase for the number Chiquitita. Never has such a reassurance of quality been in safer hands, from a number which, while enjoyable, never sits in the ABBA pantheon to the esteem of Winner Takes It All or S.O.S

And fellas, please remain calm during Does Your Mother Know – you may find it hard to do so, but please keep your ‘standing ovations’ to yourselves, no matter how fantastic Anker is as Tanya.

Never one to stand in shadow, Sharon Sexton’s Donna refuses to allow her friends to have all the fun. Her Donna is fiery, animated and thankfully, keeps Sexton’s Irish accent making for one hell of a formidable woman. It isn’t though until The Winner Takes It All that Sexton strides to the front of the cast, nailing every note, maintaining clarity and gut-wrenching emotion. It’s easy to throw Donna’s character into the comedic pit, but Sexton, with Nikki Davis Jone’s resident direction, captures the mother, as well as the free spirit. Touching, her rendition of Slipping Through My Fingers will stir profound emotions to offset the humour we’ve been experiencing thus far. 

Sadly, there is a minor complication with an otherwise perfect production – it is, however, a subjective one. An exquisite soprano, Emma Mullen’s Sophie can reach peak notes, but wavers when numbers require a deeper tone, especially troublesome with the weaker sound design drowning out the cast in the opening half. Her Sophie feels closer at home in the halls of Downton, then the sun of the Greek islands. Her movements are stiff, peculiar as her dance routines are often flowing. This touring production has a Sophie who feels a tad more neurotic, less like the character is meant to be with stiff – jerking actions in her hands or expression.

The ladies cannot have all the fun though, as our three leading men don their glitter, shoulder-pads and leave a few top buttons off to raise the roof. Rob Fowler, Daniel Crowder and Jamie Kenna offer such joy to the audience in their roles as Sam, Harry and Bill, but Fowler’s vocal ability is sensational – rivalling Sexton for solo’s which raise hairs as they do cheers. Together with Swift’s Rosie, Kenna gains the audiences favour for his comedic subtlety, never stretching himself into caricature.

The cast, particularly in large numbers such as Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! or Voulez-Vous prove their merit, courtesy of touring dance captain Robert Knight, Anthony Van Laast’s original choreography maintains its sharp intensity.

When theatre is this energetic, a pure euphoric sense of enjoyment washes over. Where cares, troubles and the irritations of day-to-day life get left behind as you strut, sing, wiggle them shoulders and let loose. Mamma Mia! will never be known for it’s diverse or rich narrative, but what it will always be is a testament to how solid vocals, excellent composition and a mother-load of hip thrusts can transform even the miserable into dancing queens for one evening.

Tickets Available from ATG Tickets for Edinburgh Playhouse: https://www.atgtickets.com/shows/mamma-mia/edinburgh-playhouse/

Solaris – The Lyceum, Edinburgh

Written by David Greig

Adapted from Stanislaw Lem’s novel

Directed by Matthew Lutton

Runs at The Royal Lyceum Theatre until October 5th

A living planet. Capable of rational thought, movement and decision. Universal discovery of a lifetime – or idealist lie to further one’s understanding of the unknown? David Greig’s Solaris adapts itself from the original 1968 novel by Stanislaw Lem, also borrowing, but standing apart from the 1972 cinematic masterpiece from Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky. 

Examining the response to extraterrestrial life, a reflective piece on human isolation, David Greig’s (thankfully) gender-balanced cast stands aboard a spacecraft orbiting the titular Solaris. A planet of an endless ocean – yet there’s more. Solaris, perhaps unkindly, offers the crew gifts. Tokens at first, which distort themselves into something all too familiar. Recognisable phantoms sooner best forgotten, past loves and children. As the natures of scientific rigour fight against human desire, the crew find themselves sharing emotional vulnerability.

There isn’t a single scene which does not deserve to be captured, framed and proudly put on display. Hyemi Shin’s design captivates our attention from the opening. Furthering a cinematic motif, the tri-colour palette ebbs and hues across the distinctly clinical aesthetic. Monumentally triumphant, stage management must pride themselves in the seamless workings of Solaris. Capitalising on the cinematic ‘cuts’ over a traditional black-out, the pace of transition is impressive – holding off a tiring of the effect. 

This tantalising setting, through Matthew Lutton’s direction, divides itself through a richly rewarding make-up of staging and cinematic projection. With fewer gimmickry intentions than one may principally suspect, it’s in truth minimal in reliance on effects which do not overshadow stellar performances.

Chiefly that of Polly Frame, taking the role of psychologist Kris Kelvin. Her presence is accessible, easing audience preconceptions as they wrap their heads around the jargonish plot threads. Indeed, both Fode Simbo and Jade Ogugua’s doctors Snow and Sartorius bring different elements of morality to the concepts of ‘othering’ the vistor. Genuine, welcoming and offering levity – Simbo acts against the deteriorating sanity of Frame, maintaining a distinct element of that most dangerous trait: curiosity.

Gracing us through the medium of VHS is Hugo Weaving, who matches expectations – excelling those of a pre-recorded segment. His presence isn’t leant upon, his scenes an enhancing addition of flavourful exposition, without the reliance of heavy description.

Space encompasses the inevitability of isolation, the avoidance of one’s self-realisation, is futile. Greig takes a bold move in what he shapes from the original novel, honing the defiance in being alone, as the planet manifesting itself in human form. Psychologist Kris rips herself between the realms of human connection and scientific standards, drawn to the personification of her loneliness in Ray (Keegan Joyce). An energetic, attractive man from her past, a ghost of regret. In chasing this idealistic fantasy, Kris traps herself further in an addictive pursuit of false satisfaction.

Horror lurks principally in a tranquil yet unnerving underlying score, composed by sound designer Jethro Woodward. Straying from this psychological terror, a fear persists of allowing an excessive negative air to hang over Solaris. Humour is punchy, often natural, but permeates frequently, exceeding dread.

An infusion of stage and screen, David Greig champions sci-fi in a manner theatre rarely carries off. As alien as the narrative may reside, it couldn’t be further from human in construct. With a distinct beauty in design, both aural and visual, Solaris is a pinnacle of theatrical science fiction, and while it shy’s from the genre’s depths of horror, it redeems itself with a prevalent atmosphere.

Tickets available from The Lyceum: https://lyceum.org.uk/whats-on/production/solaris

Production Photography: Mihaela Bodlovic

Crocodile Fever – Traverse Theatre

Written by Meghan Tyler

Directed by Gareth Nicholls

To be blunt, Crocodile Fever is a smack in the face in all of the best ways possible. Dark, hilarious, violent, gruesome, wholesome and a clusterfuck of religious iconography and blasphemy – and you have to get behind every second. It’s a story of sisterhood; a portrayal of a timeless bond that has stood tremendously difficult trials. It has themes of female and Irish oppression and also addresses sexual abuse.  

Sisters Fianna and Alannah (Lisa Dwyer Hogg and Lucianne McEvoy) are entirely relatable. Rebellious Fianna returns home after hearing of her father’s passing; meanwhile Alannah, a mousey cleanliness freak, is tending to the house. The paralyzing anxiety McEvoy conveys, contrasting Dwyer Hogg’s fiery outbursts, is exquisite.

Tyler wanted to write something that would excite 17-year olds. Well – she has (as assuredly as a man in his twenties can say). They’ll also find it touching, disturbing, and hopefully, beyond the laughs, they see a well-crafted narrative of sisterhood, patriarchy and the ill effects of giving up on someone ‘troubled’.

Rife with imagery, Grace Smart’s set design and Rachael Canning’s puppet creation are exceptional. They perfectly capture the slow, reptilian weight of archaic patriarchy from simple physical movements to the show’s finale.

Holding no punches, Crocodile Fever takes every left-turn imaginable. It doesn’t so much throw you down the rabbit hole as toss you into the gaping maw of a hungry beast. Crocodile Fever will put people off, and it bloody well should. If it didn’t have that streak of rebellious, finger-flipping attitude, it wouldn’t work nearly as well as it does.

Photos by Lara Cappelli