Cast perform a confident, new take on ‘Mamma Mia!’

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“Mamma Mia!” characters Tanya, Donna and Rosie played by (from left) Helen McFarlane, Louiza Blomfield and Tracy Noble.

Theatre / “Mamma Mia!”, Free Rain Theatre, at The Q, Queanbeyan, until May 8. Reviewed by BILL STEPHENS.

FOR anyone who feels they couldn’t bear to listen to another ABBA song, that shouldn’t prevent them from going to see Free Rain Theatre’s exuberant new production of “Mamma Mia!”. 

Although “Mamma Mia!” features about two dozen ABBA songs, they have been interwoven into an appealing story about a young woman, Sophie (Charlotte Gearside) who is about to marry. Sophie decides that she needs to know who her father is. Her attempts to glean this information from her free-spirited mother, Donna (Louiza Blomfield) have been unsuccessful. Having discovered her mother’s diary, Sophie invites three of the most likely suspects to her wedding in the hope of discovering which is her father.  

Although none of the songs were written with this context in mind, they have been so cleverly integrated into the storyline that they express the various characters feelings and advance the storyline convincingly. Therefore, the perfect fit for this story set in a holiday villa on a sunny Greek island.

Free Rain Theatre has assembled an outstanding cast of experienced local musical theatre performers for this production. Stylishly directed by Jarrad West, and costumed by Fiona Leach in a riotous collection of colourful resort wear to compliment the excellent setting imported from Rockhampton, the cast is led by Louiza Blomfield and Charlotte Gearside, perfectly cast as mother and daughter, Donna and Sophie. Both possess fine voices and the ability to phrase their lyrics meaningfully. Their scenes together generate real chemistry, allowing the audience to become invested in their relationship.

Similarly, Helen McFarlane and Tracey Noble are outstanding as Donna’s uninhibited friends, Tanya and Rosie. McFarlane provided a highpoint fending off the randy young Pepper (cheekily performed by Grayson Woodham) in the brilliantly staged “Does Your Mother Know” and Noble’s magic moment comes with her hilariously sustained response to discovering the possibility of marriage prospect.

Isaac Gordon, Mark Maconachie and Paul Sweeney each impress as Sophie’s three prospective fathers, each revealing fine singing voices and creating widely contrasting, but equally likeable characterisations. Will Collett as Sophie’s fiancé, Sky, and Jessica Gowing and Meaghan Stewart as Sophie’s friends, Lisa and Ali, all stand out in supporting roles.

Michelle Heine has outdone herself with a constant stream of dazzling, meticulously rehearsed dance numbers confidently and joyously performed by the whole cast to the sounds of Alexander’s Unikowski’s excellent band, augmented with a team of pit singers. Nick Cossart achieved an excellent balance with his sound design, which allowed the audience to savour the lyrics without losing any of the dynamism of the band.

Amongst all this excellence, however, Phillip Goodwin’s lighting design felt like a work-in-progress often leaving the principals in darkness, inaccurate follow-spotting, and lighting levels often too low and gloomy.

Having survived a long gestation period (this production was about to open last year when the COVID-19 pandemic struck) along with recent excellent offerings from the Canberra Philharmonic Society (Jersey Boys) and Queanbeyan Players (The Sound of Music) is a testament to the excellence achieved by local community theatre groups. 

This production is not to be missed and viewers might even discover that they enjoy ABBA music after all. 

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