INTERVIEW: Mamma Mia! star Chris Hollis talks with Total MK

Once is never enough for Mamma Mia! audiences, who make return visits to engage with the  feel-good of the smash-hit musical.

Incredibly, one in 10 of the British population have now seen the show...and counting.

But its not only those watching Mamma Mia! that are under its spell - those starring in the work are just as smitten.

Chris Hollis (pictured above, left) is a perfect example. He has been in the show for more than a year now, but there was a long stint in the West End before that.
"I had a break before I went back in though - like childbirth I forgot the pain," he jests.
"When I was in the West End there was a bloke who had been in it for 12 or 13 years.

"He's either in a mental asylum or put out to pasture humming ABBA to himself in a field now!"

The enchanting tale of family and friendship unfolding on a Greek island paradise - with that sensational soundtrack - is a role made easy by Chris.
His CV spans Albert Square to Shakespearean familiars. In Mamma Mia! he is Bill Austin, and he does a swell job.

Not just with the acting, but the singing too.
"Weirdly, from an early age I'd always sung - in choirs, and at school. But I am not a trained singer. Some people come from the singing side of it, some from the dancing side, but I am an actor who sings.
"I love singing. It's a great vehicle for someone like me to have a fantastic time without being over exposed, so I've got just enough singing to be comfortable with."

In Milton Keynes Mamma Mia! has been playing to full houses night after night. It's the first time it has toured the UK and a hot ticket.

There's a real family vibe among the cast too: "Because this is a touring show as opposed to the West End, it has a sort of momentum and energy about it," Chris reveals.

"We are travelling as a circus around the countryside together, so we get to know each other very well, and are living away from home so we tend to eat and socialise together and that creates a nice momentum."

Chris is enjoying the contrast that touring offers as opposed to playing for the West End audiences: "In the West End you've got a different vibe - you've got tourists and you don't get full capacity.  Because there is so much choice you can go and see 10 musicals, so you are in competition and it is difficult, and you have to play that stage despite what you are getting back.
He added: "You can go to a Newcastle or a Milton Keynes or an Edinburgh audience and they are local, like a football crowd.

"People pick up the same energy and they feed off each other, so that's very different from different families and nationalities in one big theatre."

Between shows, Chris gets in the saddle - he keeps a cycle in the back of his car, and often takes to two wheels to discover the areas he is working in.

But when the curtain rises, he helps us on a journey of ABBA infused warmth.

Chris has lived and worked with the show for such a long time, and experienced many a standing ovation, which aren't that easy to come by. 

So why do people hold this show in such affection?


"You would imagine it's a show aimed at women, at hen parties at people who know Abba, either first time around or through their parents influence," Chris begins.
"I went to see it as a young Dad and so much of the story appealed to me and still enthuses and affects me - Slipping Through My Fingers is agony to watch as a parent.
"Dads come along with their arms half-way round their back thinking 'Really - do I have to?' and at the end they are as quick to stand up as the mums," he promises.

"But I think the reason it is so successful is because you've got three generations - you can have nan, daughter and granddaughter who can all come along and get something out of it, in different ways.
"It's a show about families and identities and about where you fit in.  And if you want to escape to a Greek Island, there might be more exciting ways, but its pretty damn cheap to come up and see this for a few quid!"

Mamma Mia! continues at Milton Keynes Theatre until Saturday (May 20). To book tickets click here