The Way Old Friends Do

Ian Hallard
Birmingham Rep
Northcott Theatre, Exeter

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ABBA tribute band Head Over Heels Credit: Darren Bell

Clever set design and slick one-liners up the ante in Ian Hallard’s new comedy resplendent with golden platform boots, false beards and dancing queens.

Hallard plays the pivotal character super-fan Peter whose earliest memory is seeing ABBA: The Movie at age three. A chance encounter, via Grindr, and a childhood friendship is rekindled with "posh pratt in a cravat", acerbic Edward (Endeavour’s Dr DeBryn James Bradshaw). Memories are shared, decamping from the closet discussed and a chance to heal the still-raw wounds of a disastrous school concert emerges.

Encouraged by Sally (actor, movement director and choreographer Donna Berlin), who ticks almost all the diversity boxes as a black thespian lesbian, the duo step into the high-heeled boots, frosted lipstick and false eyelashes left vacant by Arts Council cuts as a gender-swapping tribute band.

Rose Shalloo (Malory Towers, Emma) is motormouth jittery Jodie channelling Björn while the comically-gifted Sara Crowe (Four Weddings and a Funeral, Sheila’s Island) plays prim, glossary-loving Mrs Campbell revitalised by headbanging Benny, wayward whiskers and a carpet fitter with tattoos in surprising places.

National treasures Miriam Margolyes and the much-missed Paul O’Grady provide the voices of Peter’s nan and radio DJ respectively.

Director Mark Gatiss (League of Gentlemen) keeps it pacy (at least until well into the second half) with moments of pathos and Crowe’s excellent timing adds up to such great fun until Facebook fan club creator Christian drops into the mix and persuades the embryonic band that the North East is their oyster.

Janet Bird’s rotating set is a triumph. The iconic ABBA logo is transformed into arched doorways with an alcove wall between which turns to seamlessly move the action from lounge to dressing rooms, spa to backstage and more.

It is all very fun and frothy with plenty of societal comment and packed full of ABBA facts, figures and back catalogue.

Reviewer: Karen Bussell

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