Mamma Mia!

Sun, sea and sand – at Ventnor (I didn’t have a picture of Skopelos).

Friday 29th June

I should like to add a dissenting voice to all the praise that has been heaped on Mamma Mia!, which I watched last night for the second time. I didn’t think much of it the first time and wanted to see if it could change my mind on second view.

It’s fun, it’s colourful, the scenery is lovely, the songs are great, the cast is energetic and tuneful, there’s lots of dancing about and falling into the sea, and it’s always nice to see Colin Firth loosening up and getting into blue satin, but, no, I still didn’t like it.

My, my, how could I resist it? Well, when I see a film, I like either a story or something interestingly metaphysical. I like to be left with some of it when it’s over. The story in Mamma Mia! is tenuous, to say the least. Girl invites three men, one of whom is her father, but, ah-ha, we never know which, to her wedding, unbeknown to mother, consternation, then all ends happily. That’s it, really. No twists and turns, no surprises, no serious note (and there ought to be a serious note), no conflict, no big event. True, the floor eventually cracks, shooting up a geyser, but everyone just gets happily soaked.

The cast spends a lot of time getting wet, actually, because this is Greece, land of blue sea and perpetual sunshine, and we don’t want to waste it.

It’s the lack of story that I really object to – that, and the inappropriate shoe-horning of the songs into what passes for the script. It’s like eating candyfloss; OK for a bit, but when you get to the end, you’d really rather have had a nice pizza with lots of umami.

A few years ago I answered an advertisement from a woman in London who had written songs for a musical and wanted someone to write the book (the framing play script). She ran a dress shop for transvestites in Leyton and sounded like fun.

The songs, alas, were hopelessly out of date and her ‘plot’ was non-existent. I worked out a storyline for her, altering some of the characters and adding others, which she was very good about, but I was hating the songs more and more as it became clear that we would never have the hit she was so sure of.

Trying to fit the songs into it was a nightmare. (I have found out since that ideally, you write them at the same time as the book.) She was very nice and we got on well, but the only way we could have done it is if I had re-written the songs. Not on, and it would have made it my musical, not hers, and we eventually called an amicable halt.

My point is that you can’t string a few ready-made songs together with a bit of a story and hope to have a satisfying end product, and this is the problem with Mamma Mia! I did, however, enjoy Meryl Streep’s singing.

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