Review - Mamma Mia! The Party at The O2
Not so much a show as an interactive 3D experience, complete with a full three-course meal, freely-flowing alcohol (only some of which is included in the initial price), all-singing and dancing (and a tiny bit of storyline), Mamma Mia! the Party could be subtitled, 'Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again - again.'
The original stage incarnation of Mamma Mia!, which earlier this year celebrated its 20th anniversary in the West End and of course also went global, has not only launched a whole genre of imitation jukebox show franchises based on plenty of other iconic pop groups and music catalogues, but has created its own industry, starting with the 2008 film version, which was called Mamma Mia! The Movie, and it's now 24th on the list of the most successful movie musicals of all time with grosses of some $144m. A sequel of that film was released in 2018 as Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, reuniting most of the principal actors of the original film.
Now comes this latest spin-off, which is not so much a sequel to the stage original as a stunningly-realised live stage version directly inspired by the films. It is set on the Greek island of Skopelos, where much of the principal location filming for the movies took place, and specifically inside a giant taverna owned and run by islander Nikos and his partner Kate.
With some 500 covers, it is larger than any taverna I've ever been to - and operationally, at least, the first thing to induce absolute wonder is the slickness of the operation as meals are served by waiters (who all have a performing sideline, taking part in the singing and dancing alongside the named cast) across the three acts that the show is divided into. So an immediate shout-out is due to them for their diligence and good humour.
But the good news is that the show itself is as seriously warm, generous and embracing as the waiters themselves are. Yes, the plot is wafer-thin and just an excuse to shoe-horn in a long hit parade of Abba standards (plus even an unfamiliar tune or two, at least to me). But as it unfolds in and around us, the secret of the success of Raine Söderlundh's production - originally premiered in Stockholm in 2016 where it is still running, and for which Söderlundh is now joined as co-director and choreographed by Stacey Haynes - is to make the entire audience a crucial participant in the festivities.
We are not merely observers but active partygoers, and it is in that spirit that the audience surrenders entirely to the evening. Resistance would not only be futile; it would be actively counter-productive.
I'm sure that some of the atmospheres is no doubt facilitated by an audience being well-lubricated by alcohol. (And for those who want to indulge, once the house wine already on the tables runs out, more can be bought, with prices ranging from £7 a glass to £220 for a 1996 bottle of claret (with magnums of champagne at up to £180). But actually, for those, like me, who are tee-total, this is nevertheless a dizzying, frequently dazzling experience.
The amazing design of Bengt Fröderberg is like a giant Las Vegas-style installation, creating a performance space in, around and above us, that's truly spectacular. Gareth Owen's sound design makes sure that that the sound is always crystal-clear, all over the auditorium; and the immensely likeable cast negotiate the multiple levels of the set with dexterity, freely interacting with the audience along the way.
Mamma Mia! The Party is booking at The O2 until 25th January.
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