Mamma Mia! The Party
Visited – September 2019
“you’d have to be the grumpiest stick-in-the-mud not to be swept along by the euphoria of the evening”
The phenomenal success of the Mamma Mia! stage show, which opened in London in 1999 is almost folklore now. Seen by more than 65 million people in over 450 cities and in 16 languages it was followed by the successful film, starring Meryl Street and Amanda Seyfried in 2008. Filmed on location on the small Greek island of Skopelos, it is perhaps one of the most ‘feel-good’ movies ever produced. At the end of each day’s filming the cast and crew would walk the narrow, winding alleys towards the harbour and have dinner in one of the tavernas. A favourite was one that looked out onto the Aegean Sea, run by Nikos, a widower with a young daughter. As the sun set and the moon rose, love blossomed and Nikos fell in love with Kate, the film’s costume designer. The rest is history, as they say. Although not quite – this is all in the imagination of Björn Ulvaeus (one quarter of ABBA and creator of Mamma Mia! The Party).
But imagine visiting Nikos’ Taverna under the tinted glow of a Grecian sunset twelve years later. The attention that the film bestowed on Skopelos is evident in the restaurant’s success; Nikos has enlisted quite a few hired hands including his now blossoming daughter, his wayward English nephew, an accident-prone chef and a host of all dancing, all playing, all singing waiters and waitresses. It’s hard to imagine, as you step out into the drizzle at North Greenwich Underground, that this oasis exists behind a sunburnt door tucked away in the O2. For four hours you leave your troubles behind and bathe in the bougainvillea scented air like you’ve just wandered off the beach and the night is yours. And what a night: a feast for all the senses. When not singing, the waiters bring you plates of Tzatziki, Spanakopita, Kleftiko, Yiachni, Baklava and Briam. You don’t understand what it means but it is delicious. And you don’t understand the show either, but you don’t care; you’re too busy loving every minute of it. As an ‘interactive dining experience’ it puts all other immersive theatre to shame. The scale is epic but the attention to detail is intimate.
But let’s not forget what this is all about. Three dozen Abba songs are rolled out between the courses. But don’t let that put you off. Even if you’re not a fan you’d have to be the grumpiest stick-in-the-mud not to be swept along by the euphoria of the evening. It starts off as a bit of fun but descends into spectacular chaos. High-brow it ain’t – but if you love Abba (and, yes, I’m including all those who pretend not to), and if you like a bit of escapism and fun then this is the show for you. It doesn’t come cheap but it’s worth every drachma.
Article and main photograph by Jonathan Evans
Mamma Mia! The Party
The O2 until 16th February