Mimma – A Musical Of War & Friendship received its world premiere in April 2019. Much has happened since then but, with the Russian invasion in Ukraine dominating the headlines, its themes are very relevant right about now.
The story starts in Turin in 1938. Its the eve of war and Mussolini’s Fascists are quelling the liberal resistance wherever they can find it. We meet journalist Mimma as she ponders a future across the continent in Soho while her mother Ada and brother Aldo work on an underground press. She finds new friends Sarah and Jacob in London but soon discovers that London is not as safe as she thought it was; meanwhile her family suffers tragic losses in their struggle against the Blackshirts.
Sir David Suchet is the biggest name on the stage by a country mile. He has been on stage and screen for over half a century and here he takes on the role of Alfredo Frassati, the story’s narrator and a newspaper editor with an agenda only uncovered at the end. Even if his accent is more reminiscent of Tonbridge than Turin, there’s much to enjoy in his measured, study approach to his complex role.
Celinde Schoenmaker and Louise Dearman play BFFs Mimma and Sarah with depth and conviction and – despite the show’s title – equally share the limelight with both getting solo numbers. They get under the skin of the two characters with the best-formed arcs and bring their joyful womance brilliantly to life.
There are stars elsewhere in the cast. Ashley Riches as Mimma’s brother Aldo has an operatic voice to die for and exudes emotional connection with his every contribution creating instant empathy for his character’s tragic predicament. His duet with Elena Xanthoudakis (as his mother Ada) in his final heartbreaking scene is a show highpoint and brought the house down.
Backed by the BBC Concert Orchestra led by Bramwell Tovey, the action features some exciting dance numbers and musical arrangements covering jazz, opera and more traditional musical theatre. The musicians are spread out at the back of the room behind the stage which offers them greater visibility than if they were (as they usually are) in a darkened pit. Seeing them strike up and throw themselves into each new number is a treat in itself.
As apparent by the number of actors working off with scripts in their hand or on stands, this show is still a work in progress. This outing should hopefully give the creatives some idea of where changes can be carried out before a longer run, for example curtailing the bloated songlist (the thirty numbers are enough for two musicals) or taking stock of the weaker parts of the script (for example, Jacob Katz’s teeth-grindingly constant Yiddish is more caricature than character, the final reveals are far too rushed to make much impact and the grisly fate of Ada is tonally). The writers may want to factcheck the script too: Mussolini was not executed with his wife but caught with his mistress Clara Petacci instead.
Overall, Mimma is on its way to being a powerful story backed by some strong performances across the board. The playful blend of musical theatre, dance and opera is engaging and provides many an unexpected moment. We wish Mimma all the best for its future iterations.
More information on Mimma The Musical can be found on the official website.