Mamma Mia the Musical seized London by a storm this year, selling over 65 million tickets worldwide, and grossing nearly £3 billion, since its 1999 debut. In a flashy, modernised iteration, staged in the resplendent Grand Opera House, the musical explores the functions and nuances of family, relationship and identity in an iconic, affectionately uplifting manner. 

The 19th of March evening show was no different. Set on a paradisiacal Greek island, simple but extremely effective white-washed staging created the perfect complementary backdrop for the enigmatic and spirited actors, who were clothed in equally bright costumes that reached even the highest gallery of the newly-restored cavernous hall. Epileptic, disco-like lighting seems to shrink the large space, bringing the larger-than-life acting and incredibly powerful voices of the performers ever closer. 

The audience particularly enjoyed several vibrant and animated dance sequences, a vivacious contrast to the grandiose antiquity of the theatre, along with a mini-concert performance of some of ABBA’s timeless classics, to which the audience were up on their feet and singing along. There wasn’t an unsmiling face in the room. 

A jukebox musical arranged by British playwright Catherine Johnson, crafted around the ageless and instantly recognisable songs of Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus, the audience joins Sophie in her endeavour to discover her true father- and thus, she believes, her identity- and in doing so, forces her mother, the spry Donna, to confront three men from her antiquated but invariably entangled romantic past. 

Thus, particularly praised was the actress who played Donna, whose character is tailored to reflect the increasing levels of female liberation in society: the play refuses to admonish Donna for her promiscuity, instead celebrating the strength of female friendships, self-actualisation and subverting the importance of a man in a woman’s life. Johnson transforms ABBA’s perhaps more stereotypical songs into emancipating ones by allocating them to characters of different genders.

Nina Ilieva, audience member, commented “I thought it nailed the characters perfectly- especially Donna. The staging and the music was phenomenal. Overall it was an incredible production.” 

“It excited the audience and made everyone sing along to the wonderfully executed songs!” 

The musical, besides servings as a nostalgic and emotional tribute to long-term ABBA fans, has also been saluted for the feminist connotations that underpin it. Featuring two female protagonists, each of whom are surrounded by strong female characters and live together in a mostly female-powered locale, themes of single motherhood and pursuing one’s dreams and youth over marriage resonate largely with the developing society we can witness today.