By Aline Mahrud
WORTH A LOOK?: ***
WHEN?: Saturday 28 May 2022, booking until 28 May 2023
SETLIST: The Visitors; Hole In Your Soul; SOS; Knowing Me, Knowing You; Chiquitita; Fernando; Mamma Mia; Does Your Mother Know?; Eagle; Lay All Your Love On Me; Summer Night City; Gimme Gimme Gimme; Voulez Vouz; When All’s Said And Done; Don’t Shut Me Down; I Still Have Faith In You; Waterloo; Dancing Queen; Thank You For The Music; The Winner Takes It All
Can 2 seemingly opposed theories co-exist? Could this celebration of live music be its biggest threat?
- Read on for reasons including how brilliantly rendered this re-imagination of 1 of the world’s most joyous and beloved bands is
We arrive at the newly-constructed ABBA Arena at 6pm, an hour and three-quarters before showtime, and access is easy via the DLR’s Pudding Mill Lane Station in east London immediately opposite the venue.
A tip: if you’re wanting merchandise, take a look at the official stall outside the venue because on our visit the staff inside couldn’t cope with the demand for merch and there were massive queues.
The emphasis inside the venue pre-show is on alcohol and the service was good at the many bars although the food was a little basic (hot dogs and burritos) and overpriced.
The show is 90 minutes without interval and the setlist (see above) includes the band’s greatest hits but not all of them (no Money, Money, Money tellingly) and starts with 2 tracks that we were not particularly familiar with.
There is a build to the material and by the end there is a euphoria that greets ABBA’s success at Eurovision and arguably their best-loved hit Dancing Queen. We were in tears of gratitude at Thank You For The Music and The Winner Takes It All is life-affirming.
An earlier build of Summer Night City into Gimme Gimme Gimme was an absolute bop.
The crowd is predominantly female, there are many middle-aged women in ABBA outfits and the atmosphere is hen night. We were on the dancefloor and did feel as though the flailing enthusiasts might knock the glass of prosecco from our hands at any moment but thankfully they didn’t.
The life-size ABBA avatars, or ABBA-tars created by Industrial Light and Magic, are incredible. If you’re drunk enough or close your eyes, you could even be in the presence of the band in their 70s heyday. We were neither.
There’s a 10-strong live band – we didn’t spot Little Boots, sadly, who may be on maternity leave – including singers who do fine work but we couldn’t help but feel that this was a rather soulless, cinematic experience.
ABBA may have been 1 of the world’s most popular bands but they notoriously didn’t like touring and haven’t played in the UK since 6 nights at Wembley Arena in November 1979.
It’s incredible to think how brilliantly rendered this re-imagination of 1 of the world’s most joyous and beloved bands is.
The individual ABBA-tar members even come out on stage to address the audience at various points at attempts at spontanaeity.
We loved the impromptu rendition of the EastEnders theme tune but couldn’t help but feel that this experience should have premiered in Sweden 1st rather than in London, much as we’re proud our city is hosting it.
There’s been a great deal of speculation about other acts which might choose to go down this route.
And, while we accept that this is a 5* experience accepting that ABBA is never going to reform and play live again, we can’t help but give it 3* for the successful creation of an ideal which could 1 day we fear in less scrupulous hands spell the end of live music.