The Importance of a Good Cast
On Tuesday, I went to see a show I’d vowed I’d never see again after my first experience of it back in 2010. ‘Mamma Mia! the Musical’ has been a huge success in London since it opened and particularly after Meryl Streep’s performance in the award-winning Hollywood film of the same title. I however, have never been a fan of it. I watched the movie a couple of years after it came out, and got so bored I started doing SuDoku puzzles on my phone 5 minutes into it and didn’t stop until it was over. I then decided to give the theatre production a chance, thinking it may change my mind. That was yet another failed attempt, as me and my mum sat in the Prince of Wales theatre for three painful hours, counting down the minutes until the show would finish and we’d be free of what I then called a ‘rubbish’ show.
So why did I go back when I knew I wasn’t going to like the show? Dianne Pilkington. She’s a theatre performer I’ve loved seeing on stage since 2007 when I first saw her as ‘Glinda’ in the musical Wicked. Her performances have continued to amaze me since and I feel a certain loyalty to her to go see her in all the shows she does. And when she announced she was going into Mamma Mia, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of excitement. I also immediately knew that I’d definitely be going to see her in it.
So back to present – as my friend and I headed to the Novello Theatre (Mamma Mia’s new home), I felt a strange blend of thrill and curiosity. Would Dianne be able to change my mind on a show I’ve always strongly disliked? Would I have to take back all I’ve thought and said about Mamma Mia after seeing her in the role of ‘Donna’? Or even (and this scared me the most) – would I leave the theatre tonight, feeling the same disappointment I did when I saw the show three years ago? With all these thoughts occupying my mind, we entered the theatre and took our seats in the restricted area of the dress circle.
The show started predictably bland as I’d remembered – ‘Sophie Sheridan’ singing a mediocre rendition of ‘I Have A Dream’ and I started thinking I’d made a mistake coming; why had I chosen to put myself through this show again?! Fast forward a few minutes, Dianne has made her first entrance on stage, a massive smile has made an appearance on my face and a confusing desire for the show to never end has overtaken me. I looked at my friend who was grinning as widely as myself and felt an utter wave of happiness pass through me. I was enjoying this. I was actually genuinely enjoying Mamma Mia!
She of course then left the stage after her first scene, but it was already done. She’d worked her magic. All my negative feelings towards the show had disappeared and I was determined to enjoy the rest – even the scenes which did not include Dianne.
And that’s exactly what happened. The next 2.5 hours were some of the best times I’ve ever spent at the theatre. The permanent smile on my face never faded as I endorsed myself in the beauty of Abba’s music and appreciated the show for what it was. A simple but fun way of escapism. I was enjoying it so much that I honestly couldn’t believe when the show came to an end. How had time passed so quickly when it was the exact opposite the last time I was here? I wanted this unexpected joy to continue, so encouraged my friend to stand with me at the end as we danced and cheered through the ‘Dancing Queen/Waterloo’ medley after curtain call. It was amazing. I literally felt on cloud nine. Part of my delight was of course from having just watched some incredible performances, but another was due to the fact I’d managed to surprise myself. I couldn’t believe it! I’d seen Mamma Mia! and had actually loved it to the point where I wanted to come back and see it again as soon as possible! WHAT?! On my first visit in 2010, I’d disliked it so much, I remember actually considering leaving at the interval. And here I was now, instantly wanting to make a third visit to the show!
What made this sudden new view on the musical possible for me? One person, essentially. Dianne Pilkington. She has a special ability to really engage the audience and fully entertain them. Her comic timing is sublime and her voice absolutely stunning. Combine that with the legendary songs of ABBA and it should’ve been a closed case from the start! I was never going to NOT enjoy one of my favourite performers singing some of my favourite songs of all time!
So despite the weak plot, pointless choreography routines, and banal characters, I enjoyed Mamma Mia! this time. I still wouldn’t class it as a great show, but my experience on Tuesday taught me one thing: a good cast, especially a good lead cast member can make a big difference. The ‘Donna’ we saw in 2010 had an irritating voice that ruined ABBA songs for me and my mum, her acting was mediocre and her chemistry with her on-stage daughter (who was equally as bad btw) was non-existent. Dianne on the other hand, was everything a leading lady should be. Of course as a dedicated fan of hers, I’d say that – but watching from the dress circle, I could see nearly the whole audience and they seemed to be loving Dianne’s performance just as much as I was. She’s almost single-handedly responsible for the fantastic evening I had. But it’s also down to the rest of the cast who gave a very fresh and energetic performance.
The three facts at the start were: 1) I love ABBA’s music. 2) I love Dianne Pilkington as an actress, and 3) I dislike Mamma Mia! the Musical.
On Tuesday night, the result of those three facts revealed that theatre is unpredictable and that’s what I love about it. Fact number 3 still hasn’t changed, but I now realise that even really terrible shows can become enjoyable if the right performer is in charge of them. So it’s always worth giving shows a second chance. I now can’t wait to go back to Mamma Mia! and see Dianne’s incredible take on ‘Donna’ again!