Dynamos who drive classic Abba musical

editorial image

The combination of a feel-good story set to the music of Abba has proved irresistible since opening in 1999 in the West End, where it still going strong, and now Mamma Mia! is enjoying a three-week sell-out run in Sheffield.

Many will have bought tickets on the strength of the star-studded 2008 film and all those hits such as Super Trouper, Lay All Your Love on Me, Dancing Queen, Knowing Me, Knowing You, Take a Chance on Me, Thank You for the Music, Money, Money, Money, The Winner Takes It All, SOS and, of course, the title track.

The story by Catherine Johnson is set on a Greek island and centres on Donna Sheridan, a single mum preparing for her 20-year-old daughter Sophie’s wedding.

Unknown to her, Sophie has been trying to find the identity of her father to walk her down the aisle and has invited three potentials among her mother’s old flames.

Just to add to the chaos Donna is re-uniting with her best friends Tanya and Rosie who once formed a girl band, Donna and the Dynamos.

Emma Clifford has been playing the thrice-divorced Tanya on tour for the past two years.

Every female has close friends and there is a dynamic between them

“I think the three characters are fantastic because they are contrasting,” she observes. “They are brilliantly defined and have gone in different directions when they were younger.”

Unlike most musicals where you watch characters on stage and that’s it, she says, here you have to dig deeper. “We all sit around and talk and that way a back story is revealed.

“Every female has close friends and there is a dynamic between them. I know I do and it’s fantastic every time I meet them. It’s a great opportunity to remember who you are and that comes across. We may have gone on to different lives as a result of where we come from.

“On paper Tanya has had all these husbands and young boys on the island but her interaction with Donna is about lots of things that have happened.”

Mamma Mia has landed at the Sunderland Empire.'From left The Dynamos, Tanya played by Emma Clifford, Donna Sheridan played by Helen Hobson and Rosie played by Gillian Hardie

Mamma Mia has landed at the Sunderland Empire.'From left The Dynamos, Tanya played by Emma Clifford, Donna Sheridan played by Helen Hobson and Rosie played by Gillian Hardie

Emma is now appearing with a different cast from when she started out on tour with Donna Sheridan and Gillian Hardie as her fellow Dynamos. “I’ve got a completely different set of people to work with which is fantastic and as a result my Tanya is different,” she reckons. “Aspects of it are the same but the feel of the piece has altered which is how it should be.

“I saw the show when I was in my twenties and it was the first jukebox musical of its time. Because the music is so strong we are just carried along by the story. I remember thinking, ‘wow, this is so tongue in cheek’ It was ahead of its time. It’s a show with charm and so much heart.”

Though her credits include the Baroness in The Sound of Music, Roxie Hart in Chicago and Anita in West Side Story, her stage career has embraced much more than musicals, ranging from Shakespeare at the RSC, to playing Catwoman in Batman Live, the World Arena Tour which came to Sheffield in 2011.

Screen roles have been just as varied, from Wallace Simpson in Upstairs Downstairs on TV, to Hollywood movie John Carter of Mars and best-forgotten British comedy Lesbian Vampire Killers.

“I have been lucky,” she reflects. “I actually trained in classical ballet and by accident got into musicals. But I was in the National Youth Theatre so I had that side as well.”

Sheffield is the last venue on the current tour and so Emma will be saying Thank You for the Music as she bids farewell.

Mamma Mia! continues at the Lyceum, Sheffield, until March 17.