Touring – reviewed at Birmingham Repertory Theatre
Guest reviewer: Emma Millward
‘He came out to me as gay, and I came out to him as an ABBA fan.’ The Way Old Friends Do is a brand new play written by Ian Hallard and directed by Mark Gatiss. It tells the story of two Birmingham school friends, Peter (Hallard) and Edward (James Bradshaw), who meet up 30 years later and, after some reminiscing about old times and their mutual love of all things ABBA, discover there has been a recent cancellation of a tribute band at the local Library Theatre where Peter’s friend Sally (Donna Berlin) works. They decide it’s the perfect time to form the world’s first ABBA tribute – in drag.
At the small library theatre we meet aspiring actor Jodie (Rose Shalloo) and piano player Mrs Campbell/Mrs C (played at this performance by understudy Tariye Peterside), who will assume the roles of Bjorn and Benny in the gender-bending tribute band they have now christened ‘Head Over Heels’. Mrs C definitely is one of the standout performances of the show. She hasn’t really got a clue who Benny is (or what day it is!) but she rocks a false beard and is more than capable of sitting at the piano and nodding her head. Peterside’s calm but always hilarious portrayal of her was definitely a hit with the audience.
As the story progresses, the band go from strength to strength and get more gigs in and around the Birmingham area. The mention of various local areas such as Acocks Green and Balsall Common were definitely enjoyed by the Midlands audience. We meet fellow super fan Christian (Andrew Horton) who offers to photograph the band. It soon becomes clear his motives are less than innocent as he comes between Peter and Edward.
The play has a small but perfectly formed cast of six actors, plus the voices of Paul O’Grady as the radio DJ and Miriam Margolyes as Peter’s Nan (with a brilliantly accurate Brummie accent). The stage, designed by Janet Bird, is a small revolving set that is a simple but extremely clever use of space. The central wall with two ‘A’ shaped doors either side of two ‘ B’ shaped shelves spells out (unsurprisingly) ABBA. The set revolves at intervals in the show to provide different backdrops throughout, including Peter’s flat, a cafe and the dressing room backstage at the Library Theatre. Janet Bird’s costumes are also authentically ABBA, including an amazing pair of five-inch gold platform boots. Andrew Exeter’s clever lighting design throughout the show adds to the disco nostalgia.
Special mention must be given to writer and actor Hallard. Throughout, you can feel his total love for ABBA. There are, of course, the inevitable jokes about the band, but they are delivered with an obvious respect for them. Hallard’s script is funny, but also moving and bittersweet. Hardcore ABBA fans may be slightly disappointed that, apart from the play’s title song, there are only snippets of the band’s hits throughout the show. The play more than holds its own against other ABBA-based productions. The prolonged standing ovation was well deserved after a feel-good evening that made you want to get your platform boots on and thank ABBA for the music!!
Adblock test (Why?)