Thursday, July 7

Lucy May Barker stars in a unique staging of Mamma Mia at Harewood House

Lucy May Barker has travelled the globe playing Sophie Sheridan searching for her long-lost dad in smash hit musical Mamma Mia and she rejoins the show for its first ever open-air production at Harwood House near Leeds.

This show has been seen by over 65 million people in 50 productions in 16 different languages, plus two blockbusting movies. Lucy played Sophie in the West End and joins a cast full of Mamma Mia veterans for this run until 30th August.

The pandemic forced Lucy off the stage so she took a job with the NHS HR Peoples Services Team organising the redeployment of emergency staff, but she is now raring to get back onstage under the stars.

Our Yorkshire Editor Paul Clarke caught up with Lucy as she finished a demanding week of technical rehearsals for a version of Mamma Mia like no other.

You’ve done this show all over the world so what is different about this production at Harewood House?

It’s the first time in the whole 22 years of the show that the original version has been in the open in a completely reimagined space. The thing for me is that the whole of act one takes place from morning into evening in the middle of Sophie’s hen party so the fact we’re doing it with the sun going down in real time to really set the scene is going to be amazing.

Does this untried setting for this iconic musical offer new challenges in a show you’re done many times before?

It’s just a whole new way to enjoy the show that so many people love so much. It’s a great way to get back into live events while still feeling super safe as we are outdoors. The cast have our socially distanced squares, I’ve just seen the videos of them on Instagram which looks super exciting slash scary. It’s just a really nice way for people to get back to having a good time as that’s what we have all been starved of.

I’m bringing my daughter who has seen the show indoors and she asked me what sort of production is it going to be?

It’s the exact full show and identical to the touring and West End versions. There’s no front curtain, so there are a few little extra bits to get us on and off the stage, which the audience have never seen before. It’s really exciting to have done the show for so long then for us to be part of creating these new little moments. We’ve just had technical rehearsals in Wimbledon for a week and just being on an actual stage was unbelievable.

The original theatre that staged Mamma Mia was an intimate venue, but for this one fans might be seated a lot further back than normal so will they still enjoy the show?

We have these amazing screens and the show is being shown live on them. We’ve had really intricate and specific rehearsals to make it work for these screens. So again a whole new way to be entertained and a whole new way to perform for us making the performances travel. Hopefully it’s a whole new way for audiences to enjoy a musical as I don’t think there’s been anything quite like this, and for any diehard musical theatre fans this will be a proper first.

This new production adds to all the many versions on the show you’ve done so what draws you back to Mamma Mia?

Honestly there is just something about the show and the team. I’ll never forget in my original rehearsal process in 2015, a million years ago now, and I got two weeks in and I thought I get it. I’m going to be here as long they will have me as it’s really warm, special and welcoming. It doesn’t feel like a job at all, it feels like I’ve won a competition.

You’re playing Sophie who ironically given her unconventional upbringing is the only genuine adult in the show.

I’ve never thought of that and that’s perfectly how to describe Sophie. She’s being the grown up and, yes, there’s a sense of naivety and she goes headfirst into it. The three dads have blindly come to this island like kids because of this invitation, and Donna, Rosie and Tanya revert back to being teenagers.

Does that make Sophie a more challenging character to play as she tries to make those six former hippies face up to their responsibilities?

It’s a really interesting part to play as at first look Sophie can appear as an ingénue, quite sweet, but there’s more to her than that as she has the sheer determination to take matters into her own hands. She spends the show trying to make stuff happen, and the fact it will be on the screens live means there are certain parts where the camera tracks Sophie so you can really see that journey specifically. It’s like the film in that way.

Snobbish critics often say Mamma Mia was the first ‘jukebox musical’ and some shows featuring the music of a particular artist do shoehorn some of the songs into the narrative.  For some reason Abba’s songs seem to really fit into the action.

So many times nowadays a song in musicals won’t move the story on in any way, which is totally fine, it’s a beautiful song to listen to, it’s a big number and visually exciting to look at. Every single song in Mamma Mia moves the story along, and I love it in musicals when words are not enough, and a character will start to sing because they can’t express it in words so they have to sing.

The extra character on stage is the music of Benny and Bjorn. It’s interesting that the show does have the big pop numbers, but some of the tunes, especially from their later work, are really bittersweet.

The Abba songs are beautiful lyrically and you can read the lyrics without listening to the music, which is obviously dramatic, big and millions of other adjectives. It is a total joy to sing them as with Sophie at first look it just looks like a load of cool pop songs, but when you really listen there are amazing stories right there.

Mamma Mia is House Friday 13th – Monday 30th August 2021. To book www.mamma-mia.com or call 0344 338 800.

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