What a joyful, animated romp this was! Director Ceri Hutton drew out nuanced and sensitive performances from all cast, while the music and singing, under the sure direction of Peter Johns, was tight and well balanced, and Kerreane Sarti and Shenayde Wilkinson-Sarti’s choreography was, in a word, inspired.
Northern Light Theatre Company is well known for their exuberant audiences and this opening night crowd – yes, a crowded theatre in 2121! – was loudly appreciative from Sophie’s opening number, I Have a Dream, right through to the extraordinary series of curtain calls.
The set was light, bright and functional, providing the appropriate feeling of being in the Greek isles. The many doors and windows in the two main facades allowed for some entertaining, well-timed action from the ensemble, especially in the big choruses. In Mamma Mia itself, the whole stage looked like a series of cuckoo clocks opening and shutting. The simple set also assisted the smooth, timely scene changes.
The casting was balanced and well conceived. Robyn Brookes was a feisty, yet at times sensitive Donna. Her acting and singing were controlled and well matched. She was very moving in The Winner Takes It All, and was justly rewarded by the huge audience response at its end.
She worked superbly with the very funny Michelle Davey as Rosie and Paula Cooney as Tanya. Their interaction was splendid in both dialogue and song. They particularly shone in Dancing Queen and Super Trouper. Another well-cast threesome were Sophie’s three potential dads, the smoothly convincing Gavin Cianci as Sam, a suitably pinched and formal Angus Smith as Harry and Ben Kempster as a laconic and casual Bill. Ray Cullen impressed as Sophie’s fiance, Sky, especially in his knock-about buck show scene with his pals.
Alana Stephenson was simply sensational as Sophie. She managed the large singing role with ease and grace, and combined that with assured, precise and energetic choreography. She handled her central role in the plot with conviction, and commanded attention and empathy whenever in the action.
Supporting the leads were strong, disciplined and convincing minor principals and the enthusiastic ensemble.
A critical and outstanding feature of this production was the inventive choreography. It was at all times suitably supportive of the purpose and meaning of the songs, and didn’t merely “dress” them. The results were very often hilarious. The image of the lads dancing in their swimming flippers, including an amazing tapping sequence, will stay with me for a long time.
All up, this is a thoroughly entertaining show. Just see it.
Northern Light Theatre Company
The Shedley Theatre
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