Mamma Mia this ain’t

New musical features Andersson/Ulvaeus songs and a lot of live animals

The expectations that ‘Hjælp søges’ (Help wanted) – a musical featuring music by Benny Andersson and lyrics by Björn Ulvaeus from ABBA  could be another galactic hit for the Swedish super troupers aren’t high.

Set on a tumbling-down farm, the show, which debuted in Stockholm two years ago and is due to make its Danish premiere at Østre Gasværk in Copenhagen this Wednesday, has had its fair share of critics.

One Danish reviewer described it as “the weirdest show I’ve seen in a theatre for many years”. However, others rave about the originality of the production – the kind of praise ‘Mamma Mia’ could only dream of.

Thank you for the lack of music
The musical is the story of two brothers, Engelbrekt (Jesper Lohmann) and Axel (Jesper Asholt), who start the show with a long argument while their farm appears to collapse around them. For a long time, there is no music, which is obviously a shock given the pedigree of the composers.

The music kicks in when punk rocker Hillevi (Sara Viktoria) and her mother (Suzanne Berdino) show up in response to an ad the brothers have placed looking for help to run the farm.

Viktoria handles Andersson’s complex melodies perfectly once the music finally starts, and by show’s end the song count is up to ten or so, which is respectable for any modern musical.

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Livestock on the boards
The male leads also handle their singing chores well, but it is Berdino that turns in the most interesting and perhaps bizarre performance.

Since her character doesn’t speak, she doesn’t contribute much musically, but as an experienced animal trainer, she is vital to a production that features a menagerie of live animals onstage: pigs, dogs, geese, a horse and very large cow. Oh, and there is 30 tonnes of dirt onstage as well.

Berdino trained the animals, and the unpredictability of livestock onstage adds to the tension of an already unpredictable theatre experience.

Despite the music being written by the ABBA boys, nearly everyone who has seen the play has warned patrons not to expect ‘Mamma Mia redux’. The play is unique and the songs, while beautiful, are more serious than the upbeat silliness of the ‘Mamma Mia’ catalogue.

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Despite the somewhat mixed reaction to the piece, there are many who are passionate about ‘Hjælp Søges’, calling it new, exciting and different. ‘Hjælp Søges’ runs at Østre Gasværk in Copenhagen until 7 June.