MAMMA MIA! Hit musical heads to Peterborough’s New Theatre for five night stint - how to get tickets

The super trouper show kicks off tonight in Peterborough’s New Theatre

MAMMA MIA! the feelgood musical, with a score of irresistible ABBA songs that has given birth to two smash-hit films, is back on tour.

Audiences in Peterborough can see it from April 18-22.

Now 23 years old, MAMMA MIA! has established its place in theatre history – so it’s almost hard to believe that right up until its very first opening night, on 6 April 1999 at the Prince Edward Theatre in London’s West End, many theatre pundits were anticipating a flop.

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UK & International Tour 2023/2024MAMMA MIA! 
UK & International Tour 2023/2024
MAMMA MIA! UK & International Tour 2023/2024

Looking back, Judy Craymer – who dreamt up the idea for the show – reflects on how it all started.

“A lot of people doubted us,” she remembers. “The Lion King opened about the same time, and we were very modest by comparison.” Many were expecting a kind of ABBA tribute show about the band – “they just couldn’t get their heads around it. They were constantly asking me who was going to play Frida and Agnetha.”

Even ABBA songsmiths Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus had their doubts: “They said, OK Judy, it’ll be a small show, just in London, and if it doesn’t work it’ll close.”

They needn’t have worried. Together with writer Catherine Johnson and director Phyllida Lloyd, Craymer had achieved a landmark theatrical triumph with blockbuster, cross-generational appeal, that would delight Abba’s loyal fans and win them legions of new ones.

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This was, though, no overnight feat – the show had a long gestation. Craymer, who trained at London’s Guildhall School of Music and Drama in stage management, was working in the production office of musical-theatre royalty Tim Rice in the early 1980s when she first conceived of the idea. Rice was in the throes of writing Chess, his collaboration with Andersson and Ulvaeus.

One of Craymer’s first tasks was to collect Ulvaeus from the airport, and the pair quickly struck up a friendship.

“It was huge fun,” Craymer remembers. “Chess was a big project, and then there was the cast album, so I was flying to Stockholm with Tim Rice every week, working in Benny and Björn’s studio.

Crucially, she also had access to the ABBA pair, “which was very fortunate, because otherwise I’m not sure they would have taken this on. I had to pester them for a long time!”

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Craymer began to see the dramatic potential in ABBA’s infectious pop.

“They spoke to me as theatre songs. You’d be lucky to have two like that in a musical, let alone 20. So I started thinking about how to turn them into narrative.”

At first, she wasn’t sure what form this dramatisation would take – she considered a film, or a children’s show. But she felt sure that, because the music was held in such affection, it should be “weddings, holidays, something celebratory, because everyone listens to ABBA in a happy moment”.

She had a meeting with Johnson who suggested centering the story on a mother and daughter. Craymer knew at once she’d found the right formula.

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Lloyd, who came on board as director, shared their passion, and together the trio put together a female-led show full of joyous romance and fierce mother-daughter affection: an exuberant matrimonial comedy set on an idyllic Greek island, with a playful nod to the family dramas of classical tragedy.

It’s the strength of that narrative, Craymer believes, that sets MAMMA MIA! apart from other jukebox shows.

“It’s an original story, and there’s a structure, and properly developed characters and themes,” she says. “I do like to think that MAMMA MIA! raised the bar.”

Hollywood quickly wanted in on the act, and Craymer found herself fielding eager calls from several studios. There was some pressure to consider a younger star for the leading role of mum Donna, but Craymer held out for the team’s original vision, and for her ambitious dream casting – none other than Meryl Streep, who leapt at the chance.

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“I’m really excited that we are taking MAMMA MIA! on tour around the UK once again, visiting Peterborough New Theatre from April 18-22. We look forward to welcoming new audiences, as well as those that have seen it before”.

To buy tickets, click visit the New Theatre website.