Everything that’s different in Mamma Mia’s 2018 Australian production


I saw the legendary ABBA musical Mamma Mia! at its very first public preview back on March 23 1999. Since then, I’ve seen it in Sydney, Melbourne, Perth, Las Vegas and Auckland, as well as revisiting the London production at least half-a-dozen times. But I’ve not been back to watch it on stage since the movie version of the original came out in 2008.
This weekend, that flipped at last, when I finally caught up with the Australian production that’s been touring this year. It’s still a fantastic show, and the current cast is one of the best I’ve seen across those two decades. But what really struck me was how many changes had been made in the staging.
Every version I’ve seen until this year has used the choreography, blocking and set design from the original London production, including the very clever revolving stage. OK, Las Vegas cut corners by not having a rising and falling wharf (used during ‘I Have A Dream’ and ‘The Name Of The Game’), but otherwise it stayed the same.
But Mamma Mia! Australia 2018 dumps the revolve entirely, settling instead for a static set with a stage-right staircase and a lot more shuttered windows (as pictured below, though my position over-emphasises the wharf, which is only used for entrances and exits and Sophie’s posting of the letters).

That’s understandable: a set with fewer moving parts is cheaper to build, easier to rig and can go into a wider range of theatres. More evidence of cost-trimming? The ensemble is a little smaller than in previous productions.
However, those two modifications also results in alterations to the choreography and blocking, not all of which I enjoyed so much. I realise that I should just adapt to change and that no theatrical text is locked in stone. But hey, if I’ve seen a show this many times, I’m going to notice.
One inevitable and sensible change: the dialogue is delivered a lot faster, with fewer pauses for the audience to laugh. For instance, Rosie’s “It’s very Greek” line about Donna’s three potential fathers flies right by, where in the original staging there was a definite pause both before and after. That makes sense; you have to assume most of the audience has seen the movie and is familiar with these quips.
There are also changes that have been a feature of the production right from the start. Eddie’s apology when Pepper first flirts with Tania has always been localised (for Adelaide, it was “He’s from Elizabeth”, while Sam was also said to come from Burnside). Similarly, in Australia Donna has always said “housing commission” rather than “council flat” when explaining her past to Sophie during ‘Slipping Through My Fingers’. (That’s a plot point that clashes wildly with the storyline continuation in Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, incidentally, but I digress.)
Those aside, these are the changes that jumped out at me (I’m sure there are others):

  • During Donna’s dusting when the prospective dads first see her, she’s singing a snatch of ‘Ring Ring’. There was no song here when the production first started, and then ‘Fernando’ was used. I’m guessing maybe the latter has been dropped to avoid making people think of Cher. (It is never wrong to think of Cher, obviously.)
  • The boat that comes on stage during ‘Lay All Your Love On Me’ is now branded ‘Abba Dabba Doo’, not ‘Waterloo’. Fair enough given ‘Waterloo’ is now part of the encore, a change that didn’t happen until some months into the original production.
  • The boys don’t fully change into wetsuits during ‘Lay All Your Love On Me’. That has broader consequences than just less waxed flesh on stage; it also means that ‘Under Attack’ no longer has the surreal vision of everyone in fluorescent versions of the same costumes, instead playing up the gothic wedding aspect for the rest of the ensemble. I didn’t find this as visually effective.
  • ‘The Name Of The Game’ is staged on the balcony, not on the wharf. This puts Sophie and Bill centre stage, but it’s notably less intimate and therefore, I think, less impactful.
  • The sequence of Pepper exhausting himself during ‘Does Your Mother Know’ has been dropped, and the other boys don’t try and impress Tania either. I’ll forgive this because the current Pepper can do epic back flips, and because the current Eddie has been allowed to retain his chest hair.
  • Donna and Sam lighting a joint is no longer the climax to ‘Our Last Summer’. Instead, it’s mimed briefly on the bed earlier in the song. There’s no picnic blanket sequence either.
  • Rather than lighting candles, Rosie is rigging up a chain of lights when she has her “ding” moment at the start of ‘Take A Chance On Me’. That’s a good adjustment that works with the different set.
  • Donna doesn’t change into a wedding dress or veil prior to marrying Sam.
  • One of my favourite bits of choreography, the double-tapping heels during the final two reprises of the verse in ‘I Do I Do I Do I Do I Do’, has been dumped in favour of more Greek-inspired line dancing.
  • Bill sobs manically when Sophie departs and has to be comforted by Harry. This jokey interlude heavily undermines what’s supposed to be an emotional moment (I’m wondering if it was inserted to reflect Bill’s crying sequence in the second movie).

And a final point: the boas used by the ladies during “Dancing Queen” left large feathers all over the stage. The lack of a revolve meant these stayed on stage for the entire first act, and were very visible from my second row seat. But no-one bothered to sweep them up during the interlude either, so they remained visible all the way through. No excuse for that.

ABC,CDE × 4 = EDC,CBA

I’m a fan of FiveThirtyEight’s weekly puzzle column The Riddler. This week’s edition is a fairly simple challenge:

If A, B, C, D and E are all unique digits, what values would work with the following equation?
ABC,CDE × 4 = EDC,CBA

This is one of those puzzles that’s fiddly to solve by hand, but dead easy if you write a program. Some quick coding in Small Basic (I’m old-school) reveals that there’s just one solution:

A = 2 B = 1 C = 9 D = 7 E = 8
879,912 = 4 x 219,978

Interestingly, there are no other solutions even if you don’t require every digit to be unique. As well, for this particular equation, a solution only exists when you multiply ABC,CDE by 4 – there are no solutions for any other integer between 2 and 9.

All the Wow! moments from the Bananarama reunion show


I’ve seen Bananarama in concert half-a-dozen times over the last 20 years, but yesterday was special. The original three-woman lineup (Sarah, Keren and Siobhan) is touring for the first time ever, so naturally I went all the way from Sydney to Ipswich to see it. Here’s a random selection of highlights from the evening.

High-level security

Weirdly, everyone entering the venue had to empty their pockets and be patted down. Who knew Nana fandom was so gangsta? The security queue manager told us this was based on a request from the promoter, rather than being normal Ipswich procedure. But no matter, it didn’t take long.

Standing room only

From the moment the opening notes sounded (eventually to become ‘Nathan Jones’, fact freaks), the entire crowd in the stalls stood up, and didn’t sit down for the duration of the show. For pop fans in their 40s, this is frankly unusual behaviour, but very welcome.

Best staging ever

The most elaborate staging I’ve seen the Nanas use previously has been a pair of back-up dancers. For this tour, there’s a tiered stage, elaborate lighting, a full band and a mass of video projections, including outtakes and extra footage from iconic videos.

Fans galore

My new friend Angus. Travelled all the way here from Sydney to see the Bananas! 👌🍌 #bananarama #concert #downunder #newfriend

A post shared by Rashid Hales-Khan 🐰🇬🇧 (@rashidhk81) on


I ended up seated next to Rashid. Impressively, it turns out we’d both been at the 20th anniversary gig at G-A-Y back in 2002, which was the last time all three girls were on a stage together.

All the hits you weren’t expecting

Obviously, all the big hits were present, but a huge part of the fun of this night for me was hearing songs the Nanas have never done in concert before when I’ve seen them. ‘Rough Justice’, ‘More Than Physical’, ‘Aie A Mwana’ and ‘Cheers Then’ all made an appearance, while ‘Shy Boy’ got mashed up with ‘Boy Trouble’. And of course the Nanas do a version of Shakespear’s Sister’s ‘Stay’, and also acknowledge the Jacquie years with ‘Preacher Man’, described by Shuv as her “favourite post-me song”.

Fantastic venue

A key reason I headed to Ipswich was because the timing fitted in. But a secondary benefit is that the Regent Theatre in Ipswich is a much more intimate venue than where the Nanas played in London.

Lots of solo vocals

The essence of the Nanas sound is three voices blended as one, but during the evening every single member got a chance to sing solo lines, with the others contributing backing and harmony. This was put to particularly effective use on ‘It Ain’t What You Do, It’s The Way That You Do It’, covering for the Fun Boy Three bits really well.

The band enjoying themselves

With some band reformations, it’s obvious everyone’s in it for the money and is performing with gritted teeth (case in point: Spandau Ballet). That wasn’t happening here. The Nanas looked as relaxed and happy as ever, with Shuv entirely a part of the proceedings.

All in, an amazing night, and tonight I get to do it again in Southend. NANA NANA!

NaNoWriMo 2017 Day 12


Words written today: 5,031. Running total: 20,414.

Actually, that’s a three-day total of sorts. As I predicted, Friday turned out to be a total non-starter. I did a decent chunk of writing on Saturday, but didn’t blog about it or even update my counter. Still, after a few sessions spread over Sunday, I’m back on track word-count wise. I didn’t get around to building my tracking spreadsheet for the novel, but that can wait. This week I’m jumping on and off planes a lot (even by my standards), so I’ll have to try and make my time in air productive.

NaNoWriMo 2017 Day 9


Words written today: 1,740. Running total: 15,383.

Still on track, despite a very fractured main writing session with numerous interruptions. I know that on the weekend I will need to spend some time actually mapping out what I’ve written so far, noting major and minor character names, lengths for each chapter, and other details, so I can make sure I’m keeping my main narrative connected and rhythmic. I enjoy that part of the process, but it rarely helps boost the word count!

NaNoWriMo Day 8

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Words written today: 1,709. Running total: 13,643.

Keeping the pace, with another 1,700-odd words completed, in line with the day 8 goal of 13,600 or so. Something I need to factor in: this year, I actually write faster with a pair of 1-hour slots than with a single 2-hour marathon. Time for some calendar jigging!

NaNoWriMo 2017 Day 7

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Words written today: 1,716. Running total: 11,934.

I wrote half of today’s words on a plane, half in my lunch break and in a quick dash after work, and then headed out to a Pretenders/Steve Nicks concert. Not bad hey?

NaNoWriMo 2017 Day 6

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Words written today: 5,096. Running total: 10,218.

This is clearly going to be a stop-start NaNoWriMo for me. I’m now slightly ahead of the scheduled target of 10,200 words, but I did basically no work on the weekend. So I’ve hit that target due to an extra (planned) day off work and a marathon writing and planning session.

It’s definitely not the ideal way to produce a novel. On the upside, I now have so many different chapters and elements sketched out that there should always be something for me to dive in on during the week. So my simple goal for the next three days is the make sure I hit the 1,700 words per day target on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. Friday already looks questionable but we’ll see!

NaNoWriMo 2017 Day 2


Words written today: 1,704. Running total: 5,122.

I was correct in my assumption that I would get no writing done on the day of the Finder Awards. But I’m back on track today, knocking out my required 1,704 words in a little under 90 minutes. In an ideal world, I’d get even further ahead, but life is busy. And I’m happy that I nailed a crucial plot insight.