Newest Review: ... evidence to the contrary. It's a record breaking box office smash hit show that's been a sell out for over a decade, the music of Abba ... more
Member Name: yabbadabbadoo
Date: 03/08/09, updated on 21/02/11 (374 review reads)
Advantages: Brilliant energy, unbelievable music, pure entertainment
Disadvantages: Short-of-loos, girls can't have a pee when you wanted to
So there I was on yet another wet and washed out Tuesday in early July, having to endure yet another miserable hotel work night far away from home.
Despite trawling through a seemingly endless collection of unique gift and personalized pampering experience type web sites late into the evening, my desperate search for an inspired surprise present to mark our forthcoming 11th wedding anniversary seemed destined for failure.
~~~ I have a dream...~~~~
Then at last that light bulb moment - given we now only live an hour and a quarter from London by train, how about trying to get hold of tickets to a proper West End show?
With our little 3 year old fella still not really sleeping through, a dinner / overnight hotel stop over theatre package was sadly out the question, but as August 1st was a Saturday, if we went for a matinee show we could even be back to rescue his granny by bed time.
Now admittedly, as I'd always understood that the big shows are often booked up at least 12 months in advance, I wasn't exactly flushed with confidence that I'd land a major production. Nightmare visions of the look of feigned delight on her face as I handed over tickets to "TV Chefs - the musical".
But then again, there seemed no shortage of willing discount / last minute ticket agencies out there in cyber land, so in for a penny in for a pound. In fact, I thought stuff it, let's go for the one right at the top of Mrs W's wishlist - Mamma Mia - if you don't try and buy a ticket....
~~~~Money, Money, Money!~~~~~~~¬¬¬
After initially drawing a blank, other than a couple of extortionate £100 or more offers, lo and behold, a site called discounttheatretickets.com actually had a couple of pairs of tickets left. Admittedly not exactly what you'd call cheap at £72.50 a throw, but when you consider these were actually Circle tickets which have a face value of £58, and especially given just how spectacularly late in the day I was applying, in the scheme of things that really seemed fair enough.
As it was a collection at box office ticket offer, naturally alarm bells were ringing, so I quickly checked them out on Moneysavingexpert.com forums first before taking the plunge.
~~~~Does your mother know that she's booked?~~~~
Naturally I couldn't keep it a secret of this magnitude for more than a minute or so.
Just as soon as the shock of me actually having organized something entirely decent had finally passed, in less than twenty minutes my far more efficient other half had the discount rail tickets nailed down and her Mum fully signed up for mid-morning to dusk toddler sitting duties.
~~~~Mamma Mia - here I go again~~~~~~
I don't know what it is about me and special occasions, but somehow I get myself convinced that it could all go horribly wrong at the last minute, despite all the overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
It's a record breaking box office smash hit show that's been a sell out for over a decade, the music of Abba alone is an absolute guarantee of the highest quality entertainment, and Piers Brosnan's oh-so-ropey vocals aside, Mamma Mia the movie actually became the UK's highest grossing film of all time in December last year.
But given my previous outings to London Theatre Land my concerns were perhaps at least partially understandable.
My first taste was as a bemused 8 year old on a school trip being forced to sit through the eminently loud and overpowering"Jesus Christ Superstar" - "What's the fuss - tell me what's a happening" indeed.
Then just a few years back, me and the good lady get an invite from a couple of our London mates to a show featuring the dubious talents of Biggins and Lionel Blair. Don't get me wrong I actually loved the original film, but Chitty Chitty Bang Bang the musical really isn't my idea of a top night - it's for KIDS what were you thinking!!
Frankly only the fates and a last minute corporate ticket to practice day at Silverstone saved me from an inglorious hat-trick at the hands of Beauty and the Beast.....
~~~~So I say thank you for the tickets, for giving them to me~~~~
At last the day arrives. We make the train comfortably; a smooth journey down leaves us with plenty of time chance to wander across Covent Garden, Leicester Square and into the Circus. Yet still the nagging doubts that the print out of the reference number has taken leave of my back pocket.
We find Coventry Street with ease, and right there in big blue vertical letters we see the reassuring signage of the Prince of Wales theatre. Double bonus its right opposite a KFC in big red vertical letters, so even our pre-show treats are falling perfectly into place.
Palms sweating, I hand over the crumbled sheet in question, and nervously await the search through the index file under W. We're in!!
Still overcome with my achievement, I miss out on the £10 special combo programme offer, with the £3.50 mini guide detailing the cast, and the £7.50 big glossy pictures number priced together for 20 minutes only.
~~~~Might as well face it they're short of loos...~~~~
Up the red spirally whirling staircase of the stars to the American art deco inspired Circle bar, and immediately faced with a common affliction of many an old theatre up and down the land.
Gents toilet, straight in straight out, no bother. Ladies toilet, a weaving sprawling multi-directional mass of frustrated humanity. Had I have been able to procure one of those £3.50 guides at this point I would no doubt have marvelled at the sheer optimism of its description of this lovingly refurbished and restored theatre that reopened in 2004 providing "some of the most spacious bars and rest rooms in the West End"
So skipping the refreshments for now, we eagerly strode up to the top floor and quickly found our seats. A perfect view, 2nd row from the top, the added bonus of being the last two on the end of the central aisle - very handy for high speed half time exits.
Really quite a wonderful sight looking down across rows and rows of quickly filling stylishly curvy red velvet seating, over a beautiful screen rippling with waves of soft blue shading, as underneath a willing orchestra gently introduce some oh so familiar Swedish melodies
Safe in our seats we get a strong sense of relief that we weren't a few rows nearer the balcony, as the sheer steepness of the drops from step to step was enough to induce vertigo in even the most hardened of theatregoers.
Never was the advice of the little girl sat in the row behind us more appropriate "Daddy why do we have to get dressed up in fancy clothes when we're sitting in the dark?".
If only those spirited ultra high heeled hen party had taken heed of this advice, then just maybe that last pair might have been spared the indignity of having to crawl the last few feet gingerly on their hands and knees in order to reach the sanctuary of their seating.
~~~~~What's the name of the game? Can you tell us about the show...~~~~
Patience, Patience! In case there are still a few souls out there who aren't aware of the basic storyline here's a very quick plot summary.
Basically the Mamma Mia of the piece is Donna Sheridan, a feisty English ex-pat single mother living and running her own hotel business on a Greek Island. Her equally spirited twenty year old only daughter Sophie is about to get married to her handsome young fiancé Sky, but all the while she is secretly still troubled by the fact that all her life she has never known who her father is and her Mums refusal to talk about it.
Then a few months before the wedding. Sophie finds her Mums secret diary from 21 years ago, and in it she finds unfinished references to her Mum's relationships "dot dot dot" with three different male suitors in that particular summer of love. Desperate to find her father, Sophie recklessly decides to send wedding invites to all three men, pretending that they have come from her Mum, in the hope that she will finally find the answer, and that her father will be able to give her away at the altar
As Donna inevitably collides head on with her past, at least she can rely on her old buddies Tanya and Rosie, who sang with her in a band called Donna and the Dynamos back in the 1970s, to help her get through it, with some scene stealingly spectacular supporting roles.
Pretty much every single one of the most well known and loved Abba songs are beautifully woven into the plot. The sheer energy of those classic disco numbers running through all the comic capers at the stag and hen parties, is perfectly complemented alongside the pure heartfelt emotion of ballads like winner takes it all.
Will the happy couple make it down the aisle - you'll have to wait and see.....
~~~~Super troupers - performances are blinding~~~~
Right from the moment the current leading lady, one Niamh Perry (who was an oh so nearly in the BBC I'd do anything competition to play Nancy in Oliver!) sings those pitch perfect opening bars of I have a dream, you know it's got class ouzo-ing through every inch of it.
All across the cast the singing standard was absolutely top draw, and if anything Louise Lydells voice and all round performance as Donna put Meryl Streeps arm-waving movie version deeply in the shade. All the more astounding when you see in the programme that she's actually down as 3rd understudy for the role.
Katy Secombe, Harry's daughter no less, puts in a storming supporting role as the loveable and irrepressible Rosie, and maneater Tania is effortlessly delivered a la Lesley Joseph stylie by Leanne Rogers.
On the male side of the house, stand-in Andy Rees delivers a perfectly tuned Sky, and despite looking unfeasibly young for the role, Norman Bowman utterly banishes the memories of Piers Brosnans feeble contribution as Sam Carmichael.
What really sets the stage version apart is the incredible energy. The unmistakeable sense of enjoyment exuding from every member of the cast is utterly infectious and draws you in. When you consider it's a matinee performance, with 3 or 4 stand-in cast members in the line up, there is 100% no let up in the quality of what's unfolding.
The one piece revolving set is deliciously simple as a pair of white washed walls with a few ladders and a couple of blue doors, doubling as a taverna, bedrooms and the mooring point for a boat named Waterloo.
Who needs a movie set; everything is encapsulated in the striking choreography, ultra slick timing and crystal clear delivery from each and everyone of the cast members.
~~~~~Do I recommend it - I do, I do, I do, I do!!
Even the most hard core of the "I don't do musical" blokes out there, no matter how much you might pretend you are only there cos your girlie wanted to see it, I defy you not to be on your feet during the encore numbers, clapping and cheering with the rest of them.
(Mind you thinking about it , it's a good job it was before the premiership season started....)
If you want uplifting, this is the definitive theatre experience. It's two and a half hours you'll remember for many years to come, you can't get better than that as an endorsement.
Was it worth the money? Most definitely. Only trouble is after this, what on earth do I do next year!!
Summary: Absolutely Bloomin Brilliant Afternoon