Paul T Davies reviews Ian Hallard’s play The Way Old Friends Do which is now playing at the Park Theatre, London.
The Way Old Friends Do.
17 March 2023
Transferring to Criterion Theatre in August 2023 – BOOK TICKETS
A play about first generation ABBA fans who create a gender reversing drag tribute act to the band, with women performing Bjorn and Benny and friends Peter and Edward taking on Anni- Frid and Agnetha, is clearly going to appeal to this first-generation ABBA fan! I can’t think of any other group that evokes so much love and affection, and this is a new golden age of ABBA, in which, thinking that Wembley 1979 was the only time I’d ever see them live, I can see Voyage multiple times with old friends and family members born long after the group split up. Writer Ian Hallard, who also plays Peter, unleashes his ABBA nerd, and, when an embarrassing Grindr date turns out to be Edward, his best friend from school, the pair get over awkwardness and form Head Over Heels, the drag ABBA tribute band. It’s a feel good, joyful aperitif to the main course of Voyage.
Hallard’s script sparkles with one liners, and most of them land, played by a highly skilled and perfectly cast ensemble. Hallard, as Peter, captures the loneliness of a middle aged gay man, constantly enjoying solace and joy in the music of ABBA, finding his tribe, even though, in trying to reflect the splitting up of the band, the ride doesn’t last long. He is a totally loveable character, and his coming out to his Nan in his middle age is beautifully poignant. James Bradshaw stays within the right realms of Carry On, gloriously camp as Edward, waspish and vain, thankfully finding inner depth as the play progresses, and he is balanced out beautifully by Donna Berlin’s stage manager Sally, her sarcasm and common sense puncturing many an ego. Rose Shalloo is initially irritating as the initially irritating Jodie, but the character shines through and becomes hugely lovable as her confidence grows. Andrew Horton does a great job as the manipulative Christian, who worms his way into the group and takes over. The star of the show, however, is Sara Crowe as Mrs. Campbell, bringing the house down with just a look, her innocence and disaffection with life finding an escape in playing Benny. Miriam Margolyes gives a warm, gorgeous vocal performance as Peter’s Nan, and DJ Paul O’Grady establishes the time scale of the play and the last few years.
In the second act, Crowe disappears off stage for a while, Mrs. Campbell being taken ill, and the humour begins to flag as the group split up. This is a slight weakness in the play, the stakes are not high enough. Despite Christian’s best attempts, (and there is little disguising he is no more than a plot device), the friendships survive, and they all come through the pandemic unscathed. It begins to feel that the group have not lost much, even Nan is still with us. However, that is perhaps to take us too far away from the feel-good nature of the show, and it’s a hugely enjoyable night at the theatre. Whilst I wasn’t perhaps head over heels, when all is said and done, dancing queens will love it!