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Review: Mimma - A Musical Of War & Friendship (Cadogan Hall)

This week Cadogan Hall played host to the UK premiere of a brand new musical. Following its world premiere in Western Australian in 2019, Mimma moves to London for a one night only gala concert with all proceeds going to charity.

Mimma is subtitled "A musical of War & friendship" - its two main themes feature a young Italian journalist moving to London to escape fascism under the rule of Mussolini, where she forms a friendship with an aspiring jazz singer, all taking place under the looming threat of World War II. As the action flits back and forth to Turin and Soho, extreme contrasts play out which in effect can create a disjointed production.

So let's start by talking about the elephant in the room. If one of the greatest elements of theatre is its ability to create escapism, the timing for this performance is less than ideal. We are all so painfully aware of the awful events currently taking place in Ukraine, so watching a show about the beginnings of another war meant it was harder to focus on the piece without constantly thinking of the events of today. In some ways, it made the themes all the more emotional but the intensity made it a difficult watch.

A star cast have been assembled to bring this show to life. The wonderful Celinde Schoenmaker plays the titular Mimma with effortless charm and her instantly recognisable and stunning singing voice resonating through the beautiful setting of Cadogan Hall. Louise Dearman is as brilliant as ever playing the role of Sarah, Mimma's friend. As Sarah's star rises during the war, Louise gets ample opportunity to showcase her incredible talents.

The always fantastic John Owen-Jones plays Lorenzo, Mimma's uncle and the connection to the two girls. While he is on top form in this, he doesn't have much to do and feels criminally underused. Steve Serlin is an absolute standout as Jacob Katz providing humour in what can be quite a dark show at times. An absolute legend is on hand to narrate proceedings as Sir David Suchet guides the audience through events, playing the role of Alfredo Frassati.

Elena Xanthoudakis is another standout albeit underused as Mimma’s mother while Aldo Marini showcases a gorgeous voice as Aldo Marini. A fabulous ensemble complete the cast with the talent bursting through the stage from every corner. With great direction from Luke Fredericks and some beautiful choreography from Chris Whittaker, Mimma really comes alive when the cast are given the space to do what they do best. Clever use of video projections and an extension to the Cadogan Hall stage make this feel bigger than the kind of show you would usually see at the venue,

The compositions from Ron Siemiginowski sweep through the gorgeous Cadogan Hall thanks to beautiful orchestrations from Richard Balcombe bringing the score to life. Performed by the BBC concert orchestra, Mimma is at its best when the music is left to soar and evoke feeling from the audience. Unfortunately, at times these are cut prematurely, never quite fulfilling their potential. The music is a mix of opera and more conventional musical theatre. Some of the more conventional numbers can come across quite forgettable while as beautiful as the operatic numbers are, being sung in Italian means they may not fully translate to an audience trying to be engrossed in the story.

Tonally, Mimma can be a bit all over the place. Never quite knowing what it wants to be with comedic moments seemingly coming out of nowhere and all too graphic depictions of the horrors of war creating some very uncomfortable moments. One minute you can be witnessing a beautiful Aria, immediately followed by a comedic scene featuring Northern accents that made it feel like something out of Coronation Street. A bit more consistency would have really beenfited this production.

It felt hard to connect to the story somehow with the plot becoming all too convoluted and hard to follow. Plot threads such as the fate of one character are never fully resolved and it seems to take years for anything to even happen throughout the show. The decision to move forward several years for what is billed as the third act was a strange move and one that ultimately proved unsatisfying in terms of character resolutions. I longed to be entranced by this show as it had the right elements but, sadly, it never quite landed with me.

Ultimately Mimma is a show with huge potential - it just needs a bit more fine-tuning to ensure all the right elements hit exactly as they should. With an incredible cast and a gorgeous orchestra, this was a pleasant evening that admirably raised (hopefully a lot of) money for the Prince's Trust. Even if I wasn't completely blown away by the show personally, it's always a joy to discover a new musical for the first time. While it still feels very much like a work in progress at the moment, I would be very keen to see where Mimma goes in the future.


Mimma played a one-off concert at Cadogan Hall on February 28th. Keep an eye on their Twitter for announcements of any future events.

Photos by Danny Kaan

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