Review: Mamma Mia! Bristol Hippodrome

MAMMA MIA! was one of the first musicals to use pop songs as the basis for an original story, bursting onto the stage in 1999. This show opened almost exactly 17 years after the first London performance, and met with perhaps a rather similar reaction: a slow warm-up building to a vibrant finale which had the auditorium on its feet.

The first few numbers seemed to struggle to connect with the audience, and we shared Sophie's trepidation as she wondered if she had done the right thing inviting strangers to her wedding - however young actress Lucy May Barker broke through her apparent nerves and really won hearts by the end of the first act, especially with her passionate performance of Name of the Game.

It seemed as if quite a lot of the audience were more familiar with the film version (thankfully here all the male cast can sing magnificently, with Richard Standing as Sam erasing all memories of uncomfortable vocals) but on stage it's rather a different show: far more depends on the lyrics, and the lack of distraction lets the emotions come through right from the start.

It's a simple story: Sophie, raised on an idyllic Greek island by mum Donna, is getting married and has invited the men she has discovered could be her mystery father to her wedding - without telling mum.

As Donna, Sara Poyzer's strong rich voice does full justice to the emotion and depth in several songs, her duet with Richard Standing in Knowing Me Knowing You being a standout moment.

And there are plenty of fun numbers, where the cast are able to indulge in a feast of energy: Emma Clifford's classy act as Tanya has a ball in Does Your Mother Know, helped by some very energetic dancing and amazing elevation from Louis Stockil, as cheeky barman Pepper. As for Take a Chance on Me, when Jacqueline Braun, as Rosie, pursues the hapless Christopher Hollis round the chapel, I haven't laughed so much for years.

And of course the finale, with 80s platform boots, lycra everywhere and enough sparkle for anyone, is a triumph. Though I did feel sorry for poor Sophie - did her wedding dress have to stick to faithfully to the 80s theme?

I liked the stage version, with its simple sets and room for the ensemble cast to bounce out from all over the place, rather in the style of an 80s pop video, though my companion said she felt the story hung together better in the film.

I disagreed: the whole problem with 'musicals made from hits' is that the storyline is often unconvincing, whereas with musical theatre the fact that the story is not so strong and is eclipsed by the quality of the music has never been a problem.

Whether you're a lifelong ABBA fan, someone who really only knows the Swedish supergroup's music through this musical, or one of the people for whom, until now, the music has passed you by, this is great fun. If you come on a night when there's a hen party in the audience, so much the better. It runs until May 7.