Mimma – A Musical of War & Friendship ★★★ Cadogan Hall | February 28, 2022

It has been said that "in war, the first casualty is truth" but the second is probably trust, followed by friendship. Mimma – A Musical of War & Friendship looks at how the bonds of friendship and family are strained and sometimes broken by the pressures and divisions created by war. The theme is a powerful one but in this new work its presentation is obscured by the pacing and presentation of the narrative. Act I is a rather long introduction of the protagonist (Celinde Schoenmaker) and her circumstances as an anti-fascist activist in pre-WW II Italy. She is forced into exile in London where she forges a friendship with a nightclub singer (Louise Dearman). But even as she takes up this new life, trust has been broken to the point that she is under suspicion just for being Italian. For us, the use of a narrator (David Suchet) to explain many situations was sometimes intrusive and reduced the emotional impact of the story. There is also a problem with the arc of the narrative itself: some parts seem unnecessarily drawn out, while at other points we are rushed through events via an exposition that fills in too much of a complicated story. The subplot of Jacob Katz (Steve Serlin) and his art trafficking seemed an almost unnecessary add-on further muddling things. These issues aside, there is some absolutely glorious singing here. Elena Xanthoudakis as Ada Marini has a voice that completely enthrals. She commands the stage and the show reaches a new level when she sings. She is matched in that virtuosity by Ashley Riches. His portrayal of Mimma's brother was poignant and his voice was absolutely inspiring. "Aldo's Lament" was one highpoint as was the "Aria Pieta." Indeed, Act II has some absolutely sublime operatic moments which really overshadowed the rest of the show. The remainder of Mimma's journey simply seemed anti-climactic and it feels as though she never becomes the central character in her own story. Mimma – A Musical of War & Friendship chronicles a fascinating journey and there are some unforgettable moments, but there needs to be a refocusing that clarifies the narrative and its important message.

Rated: ★★★

Reviewed by J.C.
Photo by Danny Kaan.

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