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24 September 2014

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First night: Mamma Mia! and Othello

Mark ShentonWhile the West End has been sent reeling from a succession of early summer closures (more here), there’s some good news, says our critic Mark Shenton, with not one but two old 1930s theatres completely transformed for the new century...

At the dazzlingly refurbished Prince of Wales (after a refit that's cost over £7m), the theatre is a show in itself, replete with its splendid new glass-fronted bars which are epitome of style and grace.

Mamma Mia! London castNo one's too far from the stage, either: the new seating is positively luxurious and the colour scheme of burnished reds is warm and inviting.

But more importantly, Mamma Mia! (which has transferred here after a run of five years at the Prince Edward) has also been sparklingly recreated in its new environment, remaining as fresh and invigorating as it's always been.

While Abba's repertoire is arguably second only to the Beatles in terms of output - and the affection in which it's held - this is far more than just a catalogue compilation show.

Catherine Johnson's book is accomplished and witty as it skilfully enfolds the group's most popular songs in a way that makes them comment on the action, which revolves around a 20-year-old girl trying to work out who her father is from perusing her unmarried mum's old diaries.

Mamma Mia! posterLike the best pop, Abba's songs have been re-generated as timeless. And, as delivered with firebrand passion and attack by a cast led by the vibrant, sassy Vivien Parry as mum Donna, Phyllida Lloyd's production is packed with talent.

Thank you for the music, goes one of Abba's songs - to which the only possible response can be: thank you for this musical!

At the Prince of Wales Theatre, Coventry Street W1
Tel: 0870 850 0393, booking to March 2005

Web: Mamma Mia!

I'm currently less grateful for the makeover of the Whitehall Theatre into the Trafalgar Studios; though it's good to see a West End theatre being reinvented, I only wish the seating wasn't quite as cramped as it is here.

Antony SherBut the space allows for an intimacy and intensity that's perfect for the claustrophobia of director Gregory Doran's take on Othello, Shakespeare's galvanising tragedy of misplaced sexual jealousy.

In this RSC production which has transferred from Stratford-upon-Avon, there's lots of atmosphere, and what's dangerously like over-acting in the two leads - Sello Maake Ka-Ncube as Othello and Antony Sher as Iago.

At the Trafalgar Studios, Whitehall Theatre, Whitehall SW1
Tel: 0870 609 1110, until 17 July

Web: Trafalgar Studios

This month's essential theatre planner here>>

More theatre reviews here>>

Latest theatre news here>>

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