THEATRE REVIEW: ABBA Mania at Shaftesbury Theatre

WORTH A LOOK?: ***1/2

WHEN?: Friday 21 May, runs to 6 June 2021

RUNTIME: 120 minutes (including 20-minute interval)

It’s the night before the 65th edition of the Eurovision Song Contest but how best to spend it in the West End when theatres have re-opened with social distancing and the audience wearing masks for the first time since December?

  • Read on for reasons including ticket details for how to see this ABBA greatest hits show in the West End until June 2021

ABBA last played the UK at the old Wembley Arena in November 1979 and we’ve never seen them live but this show is very much a glimpse at what ABBA: The Tour might have been like all those years ago.

Our band is played by Jojo Desmond as Frida, Lucas Hajiantoni as Benny, Edward Handoll as Bjorn and Rhiannon Porter as Agnetha.

The costumes are exactly the kitsch collision of fashion and overblown bling that you would imagine but it is the re-creation of the Swedish band’s classic songs delivered brilliantly by singers Desmond and Porter that will have you up and dancing as this audience was from about song four, the riot that is the pop genius of Mamma Mia.

We saw ABBA tribute act Bjorn Again at the 02 Shepherd’s Bush Empire about a decade ago and this was up there with it as joyful celebration of a band at the top of their game and seemingly incapable of penning anything other than explosive pop with more hooks than a fishing store.

ABBA Mania began as a show in 1999 selling out UK theatres nationally culminating in an 18-week run at London’s Strand Theatre in 2002. It’s been rather overtaken in people’s affections since by Mamma Mia, which marries effectively the band’s hits to a story about a wedding and a family reunion in a Greek holiday resort.

This concert-type show is the closest we’ll get to a gig for the time being in these Covid-19 times as theatres reopen for the 1st time since lockdown and the opportunity to stand and dance from a seat in an audience is an experience that has truly been missed during the pandemic.

Here at one of London’s bigger theatres there’s plenty of room for this socially distanced show, the audience are wearing masks and temperatures are taken on the way in. It lends the experience a feeling of safety which is all-important as theatres encourage audiences to re-engage with them.

Three years ago we reviewed exhibition ABBA: Super Troupers and were struck by what a contradiction the band were: Benny (the perfectionist) disliked touring because he wasn’t able to recreate the Phil Spector-inspired Wall Of Sound they aped, yet Bjorn urged on their costume designer with the infamous words: ‘Nothing is too wild.’

It’s reflected in the music: a devastatingly sad lyric coupled with an unforgettable hook (see our favourite Knowing Me, Knowing You, which also features here).

It seems unlikely that we’ll ever have a chance to see the band live, certainly not at the peak of their popularity, and so ABBA Mania is a fun chance to come close to that experience. As theatres re-open, it’s also the perfect feel good show to offer something close to the gig-going show when that actual spectacle is still just out of our grasp.

  • Picture via Facebook courtesy ABBA Mania Tickets
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