SECC, Glasgow, Tue 1–Sat 27 Apr
This article is from 2008.
Last time I saw Mamma Mia! I was sitting directly behind Fish out of Marillion. I mention this not to name drop. If I was that shallow, I’d point out that Bridget McConnell, Glasgow’s culture supremo, and her husband Jack, then the first minister of Scotland, were a few rows in front. No, the thing about Fish being there was that it spoke volumes about the place Abba has come to assume in the cultural landscape.
When I was a lad – in the dying days of wax cylinders and penny farthings – the young pop picker’s musical choices were strictly limited by tribal loyalty. You could align yourself to punk and its new wave offspring or you could sign up to the prog rock movement epitomised by Genesis. Yes, and later, Marillion. Admitting you liked Abba was a crime as detestable as expressing a fondness for ‘anything as long as it’s in the charts’. The idea your musical tastes might embrace ‘Voulez-Vous’ as well as ‘Script for a Jester’s Tear’ was simply not conceivable.
So, all these years later, to find Fish singing along in the same audience as McConnell is proof positive that Abba are as ubiquitous a Swedish export as the Volvo. There is no corner of the culture they have not penetrated. Fact fans will recall that Elvis Costello and Steve Naive based the piano riff of ‘Oliver’s Army’ on Benny and Björn’s ‘Dancing Queen’: the beginning of the end for every anti-Abba purist.
Thus it is that Phyllida Lloyd’s production can play at the SECC for a whole month and still leave audiences calling out for more. As jukebox musicals go, it’s a notch above the average, telling a proper story that is more than just an excuse for the 24 songs (well, a bit more) and requiring performers who can act rather than just dress up in retro costumes.
The holiday island story touches on the search for identity and the relationship between mothers and daughters, but it is the infectious melodies of ‘Thank You For the Music,’ ‘Money, Money, Money’ and ‘Knowing Me, Knowing You’ that will send you home whistling.