I had never seen this show before. A woeful five minutes of the film version put me off entirely but those with similar prejudices who reject the juke box musical genre need not fear: this is joyous entertainment from start to end.
The music of Abba interweaves a tenuous plot but the lyrical quality of the original storytelling songs are such that only occasional tweaks of the words are needed to move it along and create a musical with warmth, wit, style and a heavy dose of nostalgia. The ‘Winner takes it all’ sequence works particularly well and evokes comparison with Kander and Ebb in the ability to capture in four minutes the huge range of emotions. Sara Poyzer as Donna was electric and her rendition of this vast song received the rapturous applause it deserved.
Indeed, rapturous applause was very much the order of the evening all round. Everybody had their moment in Abba Songsville, be it Harry (a perfect Tim Walton) in ‘Our last summer’, Richard Standing’s introspective ‘Knowing me, knowing you’, or would-be cougar Tanya (a swish Emma Clifford) fending off the advances of Pepper (the very agile Matthew Kennedy), asking if his mother knows of his intentions.
As with all good musicals, the comic support characters here have a ball and none better than Jacqueline Braun’s wonderfully warm and funny Rosie as she tempts Australian Bill (a wonderfully laid-back Christopher Hollis) to ‘Take a chance on me’. Lucy May Barker as daughter Sophie, who instigates the Father Reunion, has a clear and crystal voice particularly suited to these Abba songs, especially ‘I have a dream’, while her intended, Sky, is played with tenderness by Phillip Ryan.
The whole company seem very relaxed together which helps balance some of the more cheesy moments against character fear of failure and loss and identity. This tight-rope is walked very finely with crisp dialogue and involved direction. Lighting and set are beautiful mixed: shadow patterns of leaves on the walls and swift choreographed removal of huge items such as beds gives the whole production a very classy feel.
The choreography is slick and taut, innovative and energetic throughout: there are some lovely touches which I shall not spoil entirely but involve flippers, dream sequences and many a feather boa. And the cast seem to be having as much fun as the audience as the show ends with a dance medley that of course has the whole audience on its feet, clapping and singing along.
The show runs until 6 October (except Sundays) at 7.30, with matinees on Thursdays at 2.00 and Saturdays at 2.30.