Playing for one-night only in a charity gala concert performance for the Prince’s Trust, Mimma is a story of personal sacrifice in war that seems glumly relevant in the current climate.
Sadly, despite a 48-piece BBC Concert Orchestra and a starry cast led by Sir David Suchet, Celinde Schoenmaker, Louise Dearman, John Owen Jones, plus opera stars Ashley Riches and Elena Xanthoudakis, this show is uneven from the start and is neither musical, war drama, or opera.
The opening scene set in July 1940 hints at conflict, but we then go back to 1938 and a Turin where the young Mimma (Schoenmaker, enigmatic) is at a family party. Her uncle and mother conspire to send her to safety in London, where Uncle Lorenzo (Jones, underused) has a café in Soho, as war fizzles on the horizon.
Her uncle Lorenzo’s cafe is both a place of escapism and a symbol of national pride. Sarah (Dearman, lively) is the resident singer and symbol of Cockney girls back home. Her man is in the “chips” (a spurious rhyming slang for navy), and she seems to be a device to influence our feelings about Mimma. One moment she is full of mistrust (“I don’t know who you are any more”), the next pleading for her at an internment hearing.
As this is semi-staged, we do get some choreographed movement and dance – and Suchet’s narration helps us follow a convoluted plot to a point – but the screen showing pictures and captions to put us in place and time were not fully visible from the side seats, so required a bit of guesswork to keep up.
Mimma wants to be epic. It has sweeping musical melodies, even moments of opera (beautifully sung by Riches in particular), but it sometimes needs a lighter touch and a more convincing plot. Yes, those who resist war and tyranny are undoubtedly heroic, but there were too many coincidences towards the end and, due to bizarre musical underscoring, key points of plot were lost or undermined.
I found the accents and sound balance lacking throughout, making a lot of the song lyrics hard to follow. Stylistically, the score (by Ron Siemiginowski, with lyrics by Giles Watson) wanders from ballads to full operatic arias in Italian (without translation) to breezily comic pieces.
There was too much going on: from dancing in Soho to sightseeing in Hyde Park, an execution in a Nazi cell to a pair of gossiping cotton mill workers in Lancashire where prisoners and enemy aliens were kept. Despite the many locations, the pace remained glacial, and if Mimma was the main focus, we never got to know her.
Ultimately, Mimma (directed by Luke Fredericks) was neither a musical of war, nor friendship, and needs significant work to iron out what it really wants to be.
Reviewer: Louise Penn
Reviewed: 28th March 2022
North West End UK Rating: ★★