By Aline Mahrud
WORTH A LOOK?: ***
WHEN?: Saturday 18 March (matinee), runs through 15 April 2023, then tours at venues until 10 June 2023
The best bit in this new comedy written by its star Ian Hallard (Closer To Heaven, Above The Stag) is the reaction of his character’s Nan to his news that he is bisexual at the close of Act 1.
- Read on for reasons including why this is the best time of year to see this show about the world’s 1st ABBA drag tribute act
Directed by Mark Gatiss (The Unfriend, Criterion Theatre) this is the story about 2 old friends including Hallard’s Peter who meet by chance 30 years after last seeing each other and the idea they have to form the world’s 1st ABBA drag tribute act.
If this all sounds a little like 90s charttopper ABBA-esque by Erasure so far, it’s actually quite a fun and heartwarming tale about enduring friendship, a love of ABBA with a dollop of unexpected couples drama thrown in for good measure.
The set is designed innovatively by Janet Bird and includes a revolve about which the letters ABBA rotate with the Bs becoming shelves and As as doorways.
This is the 1st piece we’ve seen Hallard write and he certainly has a way with 1-liners with the following prompting us to LOL: ‘I’ve always found Michael Palin unsettling. All that travelling. What’s he running away from?’ and ‘Catholocism is like herpes. It never really goes away.’
Hallard reveals his motivation in the programme as both writing what he knows (he’s an ABBA obsessive) but also penning his dream role that he would like to be offered (ABBA’s Agnetha).
The show’s trump card however proves to be Sara Crowe as the drag tribute band’s understated Scottish ‘Benny’ who brings the house down with her wry observations.
We also enjoyed Donna Berlin as Peter’s steely lesbian best friend and stage manager Sally as well as Rose Shalloo’s verbose yet loveable Jodie.
Miriam Margolyes voices the aforementioned Nan and Paul O’Grady a radio DJ who introduces and closes proceedings as it if to underline what showbiz pulling power Hallard has been able to draw on. There are even snatches of ABBA songs between scenes and 1 joyous finale which must have been difficult to get the rights to.
Andrew Horton generously accepts his booing at the curtain call and plays ABBA fan Christian who offers to photograph tribute band Head Over Heels, books them for his birthday bash and then becomes more intimately involved with them.
There’s a lovely touch in the programme where everyone involved reveals their favourite ABBA song. Ours: Knowing Me, Knowing You.
Now is the perfect time to see this in the run up to the UK hosting Eurovision in May with a runaway Swedish favourite with the opportunity to take us back to Sweden next year on the 50th anniversary of ABBA’s Eurovision win.
Our only criticism would be that the songs are so good – both joyous and melancholic – that the drama can’t help but suffer in comparison with its limited ambition.
- Main picture by Darren Bell courtesy Park Theatre Tickets Tour tickets
- Have you heard any of these songs or seen any of these shows? Let us know what you thought in the comments below
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