First Night: Camp feast of Lycra and pop and palindromes

Mamma Mia! Prince Edward Theatre London

MY FAVOURITE moment in Mamma Mia! - the ridiculously enjoyable new Abba's greatest hits-style musical which opened last night - came at the point when the show ingeniously twists one of the group's golden oldies to fit a section of the story where two rampantly gay characters start a beautiful relationship while out cottaging.

It is certainly sing-along time with a difference when the couple let out a defiant chorus of "Portaloo, Wouldn't escape if they told us to. Portaloo, Oh, oh, oh..."

All right, only kidding. In fact, Abba's Eurovision triumph is one of the very few hits they don't manage to shoehorn into the show. By the standards, though, of those K-Tel compilation West End musicals, Catherine Johnson's book does a nifty integration job with an original plot involving a young girl on the verge of marriage and her relationship with her mother when she discovers that any one of three men could have fathered her.

The real drama, however, is less between the characters on stage than between the audience of fans and the music. A defiantly camp note is struck from the opening announcement: "We'd like to warn people of a nervous disposition that platform boots and white Lycra will be worn in this production."

The show proceeds as though the fans have generously donated the songs to it for the evening and will sit there ready to exult at each deliriously outrageous way the makers engineer the next opportunity for a ditty.

It's certainly handy that the prospective bride's mother (the excellent Siobhan McCarthy) used to front a Seventies rock band and that she has invited her old backing singers (Louise Plowright, a leggy comic broad, and Jenny Galloway, who plays a very funny mini-mountain of a Rosie) to the wedding on the Greek island where she owns a taverna.

No excuse, then, for them not to break into an "impromptu" rendition of "Dancing Queen", with hairdryers, vibrators and roll-on deodorants as microphones, that is designed to bring out the dancing queen in the straightest soul.

Indeed, even the most avid collectors of kitsch cues for a song might find themselves amazed as the two friends comfort the mother with mock- solemn solace of "Chiquitita", or as one of the possible fathers unwraps Alan Partridge's Pringle sweater from Knowing Me, Knowing You and improbably warns the bride-to-be of the pains of divorce.

The island setting allows for camp underwater dream sequences of a Jacques Cousteau-meets-Esther Wil-liams variety. But there are also moments of heartfelt feeling as when McCarthy helps the daughter dress for her nuptials and sings, in pulsing voice, "Slipping Through My Fingers", here a lovely lament for the way one's children continually elude one until they finally leave.

Phyllida Lloyd's handsome production generates a terrific mood of airborne silliness and the songs, a curious mix of the buoyant and the haunting, are genuine golden oldies. Abba is pop's pithiest palindrome and, whichever way you read it, Mamma Mia! looks like being a hit.

Paul Taylor

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
Books should be for everyone, says Els, 8. Publisher Scholastic now agrees
booksAn eight-year-old saw a pirate book was ‘for boys’ and took on the publishers
Life and Style
Mary Beard received abuse after speaking positively on 'Question Time' about immigrant workers: 'When people say ridiculous, untrue and hurtful things, then I think you should call them out'
tech
Life and Style
Most mail-order brides are thought to come from Thailand, the Philippines and Romania
life
News
i100
Life and Style
tech
Voices
Margaret Thatcher, with her director of publicity Sir Gordon Reece, who helped her and the Tory Party to victory in 1979
voicesThe subject is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for former PR man DJ Taylor
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Cancer Research UK: Corporate Partnerships Volunteer Events Coordinator – London

Voluntary: Cancer Research UK: We’re looking for someone to support our award ...

Ashdown Group: Head of IT - Hertfordshire - £90,000

£70000 - £90000 per annum + bonus + car allowance + benefits: Ashdown Group: H...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions