Mamma Mia! How a local production came to go again

Mamma Mia Free-rain Queanbeyan The Q
During lockdown, Louiza Blomfield (centre), who plays Sophie’s mother, Donna, created update videos with director Jarrad West to bolster the cast and crew’s morale. Image supplied.

Had you told the cast and crew of Free-Rain’s upcoming production of Mamma Mia! the Musical back in November 2019 that opening night wouldn’t be for another 18 months, you might have raised a few eyebrows.

Having rehearsed the show to the point where it was nearly stage ready before COVID pushed everything back, there is a sense of relief, excitement and incredulity amongst the cast and crew that the day they finally take the stage is nearly here.

To be performed at The Q from 13 April, director Jarrad West described the preceding 18 months spent on Mamma Mia! as “possibly one of the strangest theatrical experiences” of his life.

“It’s not often you rehearse a show to nearly ready then shut down for12 months,” he told Canberra Weekly.

“It’s going to be very, very sad when it’s all over because the 18 months has forced us to be a lot closer than we would doing a show.”

Part of what kept the group together throughout the challenges of 2020 was the decision to host monthly rehearsals as soon as restrictions allowed it, which served to both keep everyone fresh, but also get everyone together at a time when opportunities for social contact were scarce.

“We really did try and go ‘okay, we want this to keep going; if you guys want to stay with us then we’d love to have you’,” West said.

For West, his role as director on this production has focused primarily on people management.

“It’s been just checking in really with everyone; it’s been a lot of, particularly when we were all locked down, trying to keep in touch with everyone and communicate,” he said.

“It became a people management situation for a lot of the time; there were times where it was a bit uncertain and frightening.”

While peak restrictions were in effect, West and actress Louiza Blomfield, who plays Donna, started making update videos to share with the team to bolster morale.

“They were a lot of fun and it’s spawned its own little joke that we should start doing our own podcast series, but we won’t,” West smiled.

Mamma Mia Free-rain Queanbeyan The Q
Having given birth just three months ago, actor Charlotte Gearside (left), who plays Sophie, said it will be “very special” for her to return to the stage come opening night. Photo: Kerrie Brewer.

During their prolonged pre-production, within the cast and crew there have been the arrival of a new baby, two graduations, 35 birthdays, one funeral, and one engagement.

Having given birth just three months ago, actor Charlotte Gearside, who plays Sophie, told Canberra Weekly it will be “very special” for her to return on stage come opening night.

“2020 was such a horrible year for so many people, but I sit back and think it was a really wonderful year for me,” she said.

Having found out she was pregnant right before the show was postponed, had it been staged in November last year as planned, Gearside wouldn’t have been able to participate.

“It’s such a big part of my life that brings so much joy; I’m glad I was able to commit to it,” she said.

“Everyone’s been unbelievably supportive; it’s not very easy coming back doing such physical work after having a baby, but it’s a lovely thing to do.”

Gearside described the process of playing Sophie as an “interesting” one given she’s “a 33-year-old playing a 20-year-old”.

“My take on Sophie is she’s this young, fun, almost a little bit romantic-type girl who I think is a bit lost and is trying to find her way by locking down her fiancé,” she said.

“The only reason she does that is because she didn’t see her mum do that; her missing piece is her father and her mum refuses to talk about it.

“That’s her journey, she learns that at the end; she finds what she’s looking for.”

Mamma Mia! has enjoyed sustained success across the globe since debuting in London’s West End in 1999.

West put that down to the enduring, widespread appeal of ABBA’s hits, even as we approach 50 years since their first record was released.

“This is a two-and-a-half-hour ABBA concert basically, and I think that it certainly is a part of its enduring charm,” he said.

Gearside also attributed the jukebox musical’s success to the relationships between characters.

“It’s one of those really lovely shows that sits well with people in terms of family values and love and all the nice relationships … mother and daughter, mother and father, old lovers, new lovers, and friendships,” she said.

Free-Rain’s Mamma Mia! will be performed at The Q, Queanbeyan from 13 April to 8 May;

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