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, than 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/

The Bodyguard – Edinburgh Playhouse

Screenplay by Lawrence Kasden

Book by Alexander Dinelaris

Directred by Thea Sharrock

Basing its structure on the 1992 film, Alexander Dinelaris’s screenplay makes a decent attempt in capturing the original Bodyguard, but sadly refrains from expanding upon it. Lawrence Kasden’s cinematic release told the developing love story between singer Rachel Marron and her bodyguard Frank Farmer.

The Bodyguard contains numerous Whitney Houston classics. Marron, stubborn to the interference Farmer poses, attempts to live her life. Together with her envious but vastly more talented sister, she stays with her young song. With her PR team desperate for an Oscar to boost her career, Farmer and Marron begin to realise that the most important things aren’t the fame or fortune.

Beginning with a literal bang, one may notice that our first impressions of The Bodyguard are that this might just be something extraordinary. To use the term spectacle is too simplistic, Tim Hatley’s set design is of incredible construction. It frames the production marvellously, honing our focus into the correct areas. Expanding for us to take in the bigger picture. If only there had been this much dedication in the adaption of the script or direction.

Returning is Alexandra Burke, who receives an eruption of applause from a ravenous crowd. First portraying the character of Rachel Marron back in 2012, Burke takes to the character well-enough, seeking to show off a younger, less experienced diva than Whitney’s version. It’s always promising to hear a performer take the role and make it their own, but the first act highlights that Burke is first and foremost a singer before a stage performer. Her control for standout numbers, I Will Always Love You and Jesus Loves Me are the exceptions where she finds a balance between the two.

Vocally, she is there. There is no question to her capabilities to hold a tune, but her characterisation is lacking. Chiefly this is down to the script, which seems to have severe issues with Rachel’s identity. She flips in the span of a single scene from staunch, headstrong mother into a whimpering lovestruck teenager. The whiplash from such a turnaround does Burke no favours. Attempting to save Rachel in the second half, Burke does well to inject some humour, but it’s not enough.

We seem to be watching the wrong sister for the majority of the production, for as evidently talented as Burke is – she is simply outshone by Micha Richardson’s envious sister Nicki Marron. Her emotive voice far surpasses anything we have seen this evening. In reality, her connection with the bodyguard himself Benoit Marechal is superior to that of Burke. Marechal, who is as charismatic as possible turns in an impressive Farmer.

Issues with narrative show more in the second half, but by these are largely overlooked by the finale, which, truth be told, is rather phenomenal. It’s what most of the audience has been waiting for. Burke belting out the notable tracks of the production, with some surprise vocals from the ensemble and antagonist Phil Atkinson who we discover is vastly underused.

You know you have an issue when your antagonist receives laughter upon arrival. Especially, given the nature of the character. We’re informed that this ex-military man could have a potential history of sexual violence, assault and is a masterful tactician. The stage version toys with a Travis Bickle inspiration for their antagonist. Atkinson is capable of the role, he has the manner to be intimidating, but the stage direction places him more as eye-candy than a genuine threat. One really has to think if the phrase “sexual assault” should follow your audience’s wolf-whistles.

What’s hugely frustrating about The Bodyguard is that this has the potential for a five star, stellar production. The components are in place, but they devastatingly underutilise the talents they have. This is the genre of production which resurrects a cinematic counterpart but fails to build upon it.

The Bodyguard has some of the finest set design and backing orchestral touring the country, but it has little sense of identity. Unsure if it wants to be a large-scale jukebox musical or serious drama. It deserves it’s standing ovations as much as it deserves its criticism.

Runs until July 20th, tickets avialable from The Plahouse: https://www.atgtickets.com/shows/the-bodyguard/edinburgh-playhouse/