ABBA's Mamma Mia! returns at Dubai Opera tonight
Voulez-Vous a good evening? The Abba musical is back in the UAE this evening. We chat to Sara Poyzer and Lucy May Barker to find out more
The charge for any writer discussing ABBA is to resist incorporating endless references or puns revolving around the band’s extensive back catalogue. I Have A Dream to rise to the occasion, however, the challenge is rapidly Slipping Through My Fingers. Such is the ubiquity and widespread popularity of the ‘70s Swedish group’s genius, their lyrics and melodies in many parts of the world form an indelible portion of the cultural ether. Like The Beatles or Elvis, even if you happen to have been born decades after Anni, Benny, Bjorn and Agnetha’s rise to notoriety during 1974’s Eurovision Song Contest, the music is at least familiar and in more cases than not, instantly recognisable.
It was therefore no surprise a stage musical comprising the work neatly woven into a relatable narrative has gone on to break West End and Broadway box office records. Debuting in London in 1999, Mamma Mia! stitches the jukebox favourites around the effervescent Sophie Sheridan’s exotic Greek island wedding.
A few days before the nuptials Sophie discovers her mother Donna’s diary detailing a trip to the same island twenty years previous. In the entries, escapades with three men are described one of whom Sophie deduces must be her father. The young bride invites the prospective dads to the ceremony where the mystery is worked through using ABBA’s uplifting and at times poignant tunes to carry the show forward. A continuous success for 22 years, the theatre production has given rise to not one but two movie versions starring Meryl Streep and Amanda Seyfried in the lead roles.
“I’m not going to lie, I have nicked some ideas off them,” the charming Sara Poyzer told us of tonight’s Mamma Mia! return to the UAE at Dubai Opera. “Why wouldn’t you? It was a smorgasbord of famous people, but the musical is the original and the best for me. Sorry Meryl!” Playing Donna Sheridan for the second time in the UAE and fresh off the back of a Leeds run in the UK, Poyzer admits to be an unashamed fan of all incarnations of the foursome’s work. “A lot of people ask if I ever get tired of hearing ABBA music. I woke up the other day and Voulez-Vous was on the radio and I loved it because I get to hear it in its pop version. In the show we keep the band’s songs but we do them with a dramatic arc. They’re different but similar if that makes sense.”
Sit around and have a ball
Playing at the Downtown opera house from September 13 to 22, there’s plenty of opportunity for everyone to enjoy an outing during the play’s residency. And it’s an activity Lucy May Barker who plays Sophie cannot recommend highly enough, especially at this time.
“This will be our first time back in an actual theatre with an audience. I’m getting emotional thinking about it,” she said. “Sharing a laugh or preparing to shed a tear with a thousand other people is magical. People have been robbed of that for 18 months.” The actor who appeared in The Woman In Black (2012) added: “I was able to teach during the pandemic and that reconnected me with that love for what we do. I think about the kids I taught during the time off when I’m performing. I think about how lucky I am to be doing a job I love — one I desperately wanted when I was their age. I hope that comes across.”
Poyzer whose credits include a stint on popular British soap Eastenders also reiterated a sense of gratitude at being able to tread the boards once again.
“I missed work and I missed people. My goodness, I’m glad to be back. I’m so grateful to be doing this show at this time.”
Despite the prevalence of online performances during the blackout on public shows, Poyzer explained why looking at a screen can never replace the IRL experience of attending a play.
“I watched lots of stuff and I was happy to do that,” she said, “but theatre is about assembly. It’s about people coming together and something indefinable happening. There is a transaction that happens between an audience and a performer. We talk about them in the singular. We say ‘the audience is good tonight’. It’s because they become one entity. You can’t do that on screen. When I watched Hamilton online it was great to know other people were watching with me, but I missed the sounds and even the person chewing the loud sweets in front of me!”
Knowing Me, Knowing you
As this is Poyzer’s second round visiting our shores, the actor has high expectations of the crowds for the next couple of weeks. Complimenting ticket-holders on their warm embrace a few years ago, she was also taken back by the enthusiasm.
“There was a real intelligence with Dubai’s audience. You never know what you’re going to get,” she said. “In Korea, they’re really appreciative but only right at the end. During the show they sit very quietly. I’m really excited to go to Dubai Opera this time around. I’ve seen the pictures and I can’t wait.”
While never accepting a professional engagement in the UAE until now, Barker did experience an I Have A Dream moment on holiday here in 2019. And it came true.
“I have a photo of me outside Dubai Opera. I said to myself ‘I hope I get to perform there one day.’”