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Friday, March 24, 2023

The Way Old Friends Do... "well-meaning, witty, high camp, rather fun, but ultimately rather light on its loafers" @parktheatrelondon

Last night Stuart and I went to see new comedy The Way Old Friends Do at the Park Theatre in London's glitzy Finsbury Park.

Short review:
Two friends put together a drag ABBA tribute band. It's well-meaning, witty, high camp, rather fun, but ultimately rather light on its loafers. Best viewed with a drink or two.

Longer review:
Seemingly aimed at ABBA fans, but I suspect really aimed at gay men of a certain (middle) age, this Ian Hallard play serves as a vehicle to explore male friendship, homophobia and family.

Our two heroes, the loveable Peter (played by Hallard) and the campy Edward (James Bradshaw), are old school friends who meet up one night after a Grindr match. Grindr is of course just a plot device for them to get back in touch with each other and share stories of a certain Swedish band they have both worshipped since boyhood.

Before long their gender-reversed Abba tribute show is conceived, born, and launched onto the am-dram circuit. The boys always wanted to play the girls in the band so Peter plays Agnetha and Edward plays Frida. As for the boys, Sara Crowe as a show stealing Mrs Campbell plays Benny and Rose Shalloo as a nervous babbler Jodie plays Björn.

The cast is completed by Donna Berlin as their lesbian stage-manager Sally and Andrew Horton as Christian, a disruptive 'Chekov gun' of a role who resembles the young interloper in All About Eve.

Ably directed by Mark Gatiss, the production wisely keeps the band’s singing off stage. The rotating set (designed by Janet Bird) is neat though as are the costumes (also by Bird).

Peter and Edward have a lot of fun dragging up yet backstage talk openly and often of the toxic legacy of generational homophobia, the struggle to come out to family, and 'the shame that lingers' after they have. That said, in the show Peter comes out to his grandmother (voiced by Miriam Margolyes) on the telephone which is as equally beautifully awkwardly as it is sweetly tender.

Things get less good when the plot kicks in in the second half. And rather weak plot it is. The drama just gets a bit... thin and frothy. The end, when it does come, is perhaps all too predictable. That said, along the way there are enough jokes and ABBA references to keep us well entertained.

Hallard is certainly a good comic writer who brings lots of warmth to his work. But I think I'd like to see a bit more melancholia, a bit more sadness in his writing. It is, after all, these contrasts that make ABBA so wonderfully compelling. The light and shade. The Scandi noir with sequins.

Fun, if you're an ABBA fan. Of a certain age.

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