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.

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!

Paul Young sings Love Of The Common People, 2017-style

Embed from Getty Images
Ah, nostalgia. Paul Young looks and sounds a bit different in 2017 than he did in 1983, when I first heard this magnificent song. To be fair, so do I. The fact that Paul Young’s range has shrunk isn’t news to me, since I learned that when I obsessively stalked the Here & Now Australia tour back in 2003.

Anyway, make of it what you will. This was filmed at Butlin’s Minehead in June this year, detail freaks.

Tziporah Malkah: Some useful #ImACelebrityAU #CelebTziporah background

With Tziporah Malkah bat Isarel instantly the most impressive contestant on I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here (runner-up points to Kris Smith and Nazeem Hussain), I want to note this passage from Peter Fitzsimons’ biography of Nene King, Nene, which highlights how Tziporah has always had her feet on the ground:

Kate Fischer was one of the most beautiful women Nene had ever seen. A card-carrying, certified stunner. In person, she was elegantly dressed, as sexy as they come, but warm and wonderful as well. Just a fortnight after James Packer had become engaged to Kate, Nene had gone to morning tea with her, at James’s behest at the swish hotel around the corner from 54 Park Street, the Sheraton on the Park. Kate was an understanding sort of girl, James said, who was really good with advice, and maybe she could offer Nene some wise counsel.
And so it proved, because as the waiters brought coffee and Tim Tams for Nene, and some carrot-sticks and herbal tea for Kate, the two talked until midway through the afternoon. They talked a very little about Kate and her forthcoming married life with James, and a a great deal about Nene’s misery and just where she should go from there. At 24, and less than half of Nene’s age, Kate indeed gave out wise counsel. She was very firmly of the view that the only way for Nene was to go to Narcotics Anonymous, to wean herself off the drugs so she could begin to think straight and see things clearly. At NA, Kate said, Nene could meet a lot of people who had battled against exactly what she was battling, and listen to their experience of how they had beaten it.
And nor did Kate leave it there. Just a couple of hours after Nene returned to her desk, James Packer called and offered to go to Narcotics Anonymous with her.

A telling story. But a note for PF’s editors: no, carrot sticks should not have a hyphen here.

Every Wham! song, ranked

Pedant note: I know ‘Careless Whisper’ and ‘A Different Corner’ were released as George Michael solo tracks, but they both ended up on Wham! albums during the band’s original career, so in my head they 100% count. This ranking is purely personal, other perspectives welcome! And yes, George Michael’s career was much more than Wham!, but right now that’s the bit I’m thinking about.


Wham! only had 24 songs in their career, and the standard was impressively high. But it’s fun to try and sort through them. Go Yog!

24. Piano Outro

This brief instrumental fragment (heard at the end of Fantastic and If You Were There: The Best Of Wham!) doesn’t really count as a song, so it has to take last place.

23. Where Did Your Heart Go?

22. Love Machine

21. If You Were There

All excellent songs, and cover versions remained a crucial part of George’s career throughout, but back in the day, it was the songs George Michael wrote himself (with a very occasional assist from Andrew Ridgeley) that made Wham! stand out. It still annoys me all these years later that ‘Where Did Your Heart Go?’ was actually released as a single.

20. Nothing Looks The Same In The Light

19. Like A Baby

18. Blue (Armed With Love)

Wham! were never seen as a ballads band, and many of the slower songs that they released did tend to be a bit ponderous, as these three examples show. The “solo” ballads from the same era are noticeably better.

17. Come On!

Boppy and catchy but just lacks a distinctive edge compared to the singles of the time.

16. Last Christmas

An acknowledged seasonal classic, and I’ve always loved the cover art. If anything this has been dulled by overexposure and constant inferior covers.

15. A Ray Of Sunshine

14. Credit Card Baby

13. The Edge Of Heaven

Fast and funky is a default setting where Wham! can always deliver the goods.

12. Club Tropicana

My favourite bit of this track is the vocals at the end. Coo-ool . . .

11. Wham Rap! (Enjoy What You Do?)

There are many, many mixes of this song. The 86 remix is fun and sweary.

10. Everything She Wants

9. Battlestations

Both examples of what George at the time considered “mature” writing, and similarly themed around a grasping, acquisitive partner. ‘Battlestations’ is a relatively obscure track (a new recording for The Final but never released as a single), with fun answering-machine sound effects and tasty spoken sections.

8. Bad Boys

George Michael hated this track and occasionally had it excluded from compilations, but it’s a fun romp and I’ve been quoting the line “I’m big enough to break down the door” for years.

7. Heartbeat

This mid-tempo ballad strikes me as fertile territory for a cover, replete with echoing pianos. Conveys an end-of-term feel really effectively.

6. Young Guns (Go For It!)

“Hey shut up chick, that’s a friend of mine.”

5. I’m Your Man

Any song that was designed to persuade Brooke Shields to give up her virginity obviously gets extra points.

4. A Different Corner

The first UK number one written, produced, sung and with every single instrument played by a single person (Prince did it first in the US with ‘When Doves Cry’, trivia fans). Looking back, this set the template for much of George’s subsequent solo career.

3. Wake Me Up Before You Go Go

For most people the definitive Wham! track. 1980s pop never got any more fun than this.

2. Careless Whisper

Following up ‘Wake Me Up’ with this was a master stroke. “Guilty feet ain’t got no rhythm” is perhaps the most amazing six words in a number one hit ever.

1. Freedom

The definitive Wham! song: a Motown feel, amazing vocals, and a lyric about infidelity. If they’d ever finished the video this would have been an even more massive hit.

Would I rather be a Jedi or a Sith Lord?

My colleague Jonathan just posed this challenge to me: Write an in-depth analysis of whether you would be a Jedi or a Sith lord (minimum 500 words).

Quite frankly, I’m insulted that he even had to ask.

No-one in their right mind wants to be a Jedi. Jedi life eats it raw. You’re supposed to worship Yoda, a grammar-mangling piece of green snot who alternates between being a Muppet, a messy piece of CGI and a crappy cartoon. Strong in him the shittiness is.

You know you’re probably going to have to spend your teenage years stuck on some featureless desert planet hoping someone interesting eventually shows up. Or you have to pretend that Jar-Jar Binks would make a good senator, when the truth is that his hide wouldn’t even make a good suitcase. Or you have to incestuously kiss your sister and then never mention it again.

Plus you end up with some ludicrous name like Qui-Gon, and your side completely loses whatever tenuous grip it has on galactic power every three movies or so, if not sooner. Also, you’re likely to be a brain-dead idiot: before trying to hide yourself away so no-one can find you, you figure it would be a good idea to leave behind a map of your exact location. Bitch, please.

Being a Sith Lord beats that hands down. You frequently get to wear black, which is a better fashion choice and also more slimming. Your family name is Darth, which seems cool. Rather than focusing on bringing balance to the force, you can think about your bank balance instead. It’s all good, even when it’s about being as bad as possible.

As well, embracing the Dark Side gives you absolute licence to murder Harrison Ford, thereby reducing the possibility of any more abysmal Indiana Jones sequels. (I refuse to consider this a spoiler, by the way: the damn movie has been out for months and taken billions. And also, adopting tyranny means spoilers are the least of my villainous plans.)

Sure, as a Sith Lord you’ll eventually end up slaughtered by some Jedi jerk to satisfy the apparent sub-conscious demand for a conclusive “happy ending” every three instalments. But we’re all going to die anyway. Years of absolute power in a black robe beats handing out in a swamp or on an island for decades before having to pass on your skills to some little prick upstart and then meeting your doom at the end of a disco-themed lightsaber, let me tell you.

Finally, there’s an important issue to consider which is often overlooked. There has been one constant amongst the ridiculous flip-flopping over what does or doesn’t constitute Star Wars canon: everyone seems happy to agree that the infamous Star Wars Holiday Special from 1978 never happened. I reject this stance as a crime against nature, against history, and — most importantly of all — against Bea Arthur.

As Darth McIvor, I pledge that once I am in full control of the universe, which is merely a formality, the Holiday Special will immediately be restored to its rightful place as the most important Star Wars creation of all. Yes, I’m really that evil.

Time to kill? Like ABBA? Read Chapter 1 of my 2015 #NaNoWriMo novel

I’ve tried to complete NaNoWriMo, which challenges you to write at least 50,000 words of a novel in just 30 days, on five separate occasions. For the last three years, I’ve tried and failed (for reasons I’ll discuss another time). But this year, I dug my heels in and crossed the finish line, with 50,133 words, right on the final day of November.

If you’re curious, you can read the blurb and part of the first chapter below. I’ll publish the whole thing on Kindle eventually, hopefully early 2016, but it needs a lot of editing first!

Hey, Hey Helen: A Novel Inspired By ABBA

ABBA’s vast catalogue of catchy pop songs mentions 17 people by name. In Hey, Hey Helen, Angus Kidman reimagines and connects the lives of those characters.

Whatever happened to Fernando? How has rejection shaped Suzy’s life? Will Alice Whiting ever find true love? Who is Nina, pretty ballerina? Did Carrie ever marry? Does Rikky have any groupies left? Where has Joe been? And what of Harry — and Helen? Over three generations and multiple mistaken identities, from Kent State to the Rio Grande to Skegness, from Top of the Pops to Fake Name Night to MTV Unplugged, there’s a sense of expectation hanging in the air . . .

Prologue: Fernando (1970)

The bullet went directly into his brain. I hope that’s what happened. Death would be instantaneous then. A projectile hitting a crucial nerve, a leaky blackness, then nothing.

TV news won’t show us any of that yet. There is footage of protestors and rioting, but not of the actual killings. Four students have died and many more have been wounded. I feel sad for them and horrified for their parents. A tiny part of me even feels bad for the National Guardsmen. It’s the swampy part of myself I despise and cherish at the same time.

I suppose the soldiers were only doing their job. Yet if it’s obvious that what you’re asked to do is wrong, you must stop. I say that so casually. Actually saying no is often the hardest thing, I know.

One soldier on the TV screen frightened me. His hair was cropped short, his face was a blank. Not angry, not purposeful, not distressed about being asked to shoot a contemporary. You’d think nothing in the world was wrong.

I could imagine him as the one who shot Jeffrey Miller and the others. It’s not at all clear how many guardsmen actually fired their guns. But when I see that face, I feel sure that he was one of those who aimed their weapons, almost without thought.

Before today I had never heard of Kent State University. I fear we have become accustomed to disturbances at college campuses, and America seems such a long way away now. It’s often easy to just skip past the headlines in the paper. Not this time.

There have been incidents at the local university here in Manchester, but nothing like this. I can’t imagine British soldiers willingly lining up for the same task. Student protest seems very civilised in Britain, certainly compared to the US or France. I suppose it helps that we aren’t sending soldiers to Vietnam.

Low-key though they were, Fernando used to grumble about the protests here if they appeared on the TV news. Students were there to study, he would say, and what were they messing around with all these demonstrations for?

Because of what they believe, I would say to him quietly. And then he would go silent and I knew that he was remembering, as I was. Standing up for your beliefs matters, even if the consequences are dire. I don’t have to remind Fernando of the details.

We encountered death together, its chill breath licked our faces, but we were spared. We were spared then. But death isn’t always dramatic. It can sneak up on you. I’m not sure if that’s not worse than it lurching dramatically into view. Then again, I can’t imagine being at Kent State and trying to deal with what is happening there right now.

I understand why the students were protesting. My heart beats in the same way. They want a better world, an end to cruelty. Don’t we all? Some values really are worth fighting for. Liberty, love, equality. Those are worth standing up for — even if you find yourself on the losing side and end up moving to Manchester, as we did.


In the hospital waiting room, I look at more photographs of the Kent State students in the newspaper. Several show young people playing guitars around the Commons, the area where the shootings happened. That makes me smile despite knowing the dreadful fate that was waiting for so many of them.

Music gives you hope, it bonds you. This generation of youngsters sometimes acts as if they are the first to discover that. It is not so, of course. Music was all we had on that night long ago by the river.

When you feel powerless, music becomes the best and only weapon. It brings you together, it unites you. It fills your heart with hope. You want to sing your words to everyone. And then you hear the drumbeats in the distance, and then the gunfire, and you have to keep singing so that you can stop the fear from rising up and paralysing you.

At least, that’s how it was for me. I think it was simpler for Fernando. He enjoyed playing the guitar, but it wasn’t to keep away the fear. It was simply something he liked to do. He isn’t troubled by imagination as I sometimes am. He isn’t troubled by anything much anymore.

Sadly, Fernando’s guitar never made it to Manchester. At some point, when every item you carry is precious, you have to focus on the essentials. We left the guitar behind, but Fernando kept the pick. It always hung on a chain around his neck.

It’s not there now. When Fernando went into the hospital, the nurse gently took me aside. “We suggest that you take any of his jewellery home for safe keeping,” she said. “Unfortunately, with so many people coming through, we can’t promise that it won’t go missing.” He was in a ward with five other beds.

What an awful thing! I thought at first. Why would someone steal from a sick man? But I try to see the positive side in everything when I can. And so I firmly told myself: It was kind of her to warn me. Hospital work is exhausting, and I can see the lines of tiredness under her eyes. I grasp her hands warmly and thank her. She smiles absently.

Following her advice, I lifted the chain gently from around his neck. He grunted but I don’t think he really knew what was happening. The chain and his watch went into my handbag. I had to leave soon after that because visiting hours were over.

At first, I thought I would wear the pick myself, as a sort of tribute. Yet as soon as I put it on, it felt awkward and wrong. Yes, I was there, I sang along, but the guitar was played by Fernando. That part is his story. I was only a witness, a vocalist, a frightened girl. So I put it in the bedside drawer at home, wrapped in a piece of shiny blue cloth I found.

I suppose I hope that one day soon Fernando will come home to wear it. But then I think of how sick he looks. I find it impossible to let that hope flourish. It’s hard to see the positive side of your husband dying.

If you’re curious, you can also check out the beginnings for my two previous successful attempts below. I really should e-publish these suckers, shouldn’t I?

Here’s my personal ranking of the 27 Eurovision Song Contest 2015 finalists

  1. Sweden: Måns Zelmerlöw, “Heroes”
  2. Latvia: Aminata, “Love Injected”
  3. Israel: Nadav Guedj, “Golden Boy”
  4. Australia: Guy Sebastian, “Tonight Again”
  5. Norway: Mørland & Debrah Scarlett, “A Monster Like Me”
  6. United Kingdom: Electro Velvet, “Still in Love with You”
  7. Serbia: Bojana Stamenov, “Beauty Never Lies”
  8. Cyprus: John Karayiannis, “One Thing I Should Have Done”
  9. Belgium: Loïc Nottet, “Rhythm Inside”
  10. Azerbaijan: Elnur Hüseynov, “Hour of the Wolf”
  11. Austria: The Makemakes, “I Am Yours”
  12. Montenegro: Knez, “Adio”
  13. Russia: Polina Gagarina, “A Million Voices”
  14. Italy: Il Volo, “Grande amore”
  15. Slovenia: Maraaya, “Here for You”
  16. Estonia: Elina Born & Stig Rästa, “Goodbye to Yesterday”
  17. Germany: Ann Sophie, “Black Smoke”
  18. Lithuania: Monika Linkytė & Vaidas Baumila, “This Time”
  19. Georgia: Nina Sublatti, “Warrior”
  20. Romania: Voltaj, “De la capăt (All over Again)”
  21. Albania: Elhaida Dani, “I’m Alive”
  22. France: Lisa Angell, “N’oubliez pas”
  23. Spain: Edurne, “Amanecer”
  24. Greece: Maria Elena Kyriakou, “One Last Breath”
  25. Poland: Monika Kuszyńska, “In the Name of Love”
  26. Hungary: Boggie, “Wars for Nothing”
  27. Armenia: Genealogy, “Face the Shadow”