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Ian Hallard- interview

Currently on tour (and with its success thus far, likely to be just the first of many), The Way Old Friends Do is a hilariously fun play about two old school mates, who reunite and start a journey together as a drag ABBA tribute band. Sharing stories from bygone years, and beginning to make more memories on the way, their new life path poses its own problems amongst the joy, which they must attempt to overcome. It's time to channel your inner Dancing Queen, don those platforms and catch this show whenever you can.


Read my full review here:

From the writer, and playing the role of Peter, we hear from Ian Hallard himself, as he discusses the origins of his show and memories of ABBA.


 

What does this show mean to you?


Well it’s the first original piece I wrote, and it’s certainly the one closest to my heart. The character I play, Peter, is not a million miles away from me, and I got to create it alongside my husband, who directed it. And I’ve worked with some old friends on the production as well as making some new ones. So it means a lot.




What was the development of the piece like, from conception to getting the rights to the music, to completion?


The initial idea of a cross-dressed ABBA tribute band had, I thought, some comic potential, and that came alongside the inspiration to write a piece about the ups and downs of a long-term friendship. The piece has inevitably developed through several drafts: scenes, lines and even characters have come and gone, but I’ve been very lucky in that it’s been a remarkably smooth process on the whole.


The support I’ve had from Sean Foley at the Birmingham Rep (who wanted to stage it as soon as he’d read it) and James Seabright and his team has been wonderful.




What is important and appealing to audiences about the message the plot gives?


It’s been immensely gratifying to get such wonderful feedback from our audiences. They tell us that the play makes them laugh and makes them cry. It’s about the enduring power of friendship. One lady told us that she’d been estranged from a close friend of hers as a result of Brexit, and as they’re both ABBA fans, she was going to use the show to reach out to her and hopefully heal the rift.




When writing the piece, did you envisage playing part of the leading duo, and how did this affect the process?


Yes, I always knew I wanted to play Peter - although there was also a brief period when the producers suggested I might play Edward instead! I don’t know that it affected the process a huge amount. I suppose it meant that I was present in the rehearsal room a lot more than a writer might usually be, so that meant we were a little more efficient. I was on the spot to rewrite a line if we didn’t feel it was quite working.




What made you want to incorporate a lot of comedy into the show, as well as including drama and some more emotional moments too?


Well, I suppose there could theoretically be a play about a drag ABBA tribute band which wasn’t principally a comic piece, but I think you’d be hard pushed to play that entirely straight-faced! Having said that, I hadn’t ever really thought of myself as a comic writer (I’m hopeless at remembering jokes!). But weirdly once I’d created these characters I just found they naturally started saying comic things to one another. But obviously you need some emotional ups and downs for them to go through as well: it’s not all dressing up in beards and lycra bodysuits.




Why do you think ABBA’s legacy transcends generations?


Their recordings just have a timeless quality. A song like Waterloo is nearly fifty years old, and yet it

sounds as fresh as the day it was made. They were actually very experimental for a pop group - their oeuvre encompasses glam rock, disco, 80s synths, musical theatre, ballads. They weren’t content to just sit on their laurels and reproduce what they’d done before. And ultimately the songs are brilliantly constructed, laden with hooks, and, in the hands of Frida and Agnetha, superbly performed by arguably the best interpreters of pop music that we’ve ever seen.




What is your earliest memory of ABBA, and which memory has had the most impact on you?


The earliest is probably dancing around our living room, listening to Take A Chance On Me, while wearing the yellow woollen plaits my Mum had made for me so I could pretend to be Agnetha. Who’d have thought that all these years later I’d be doing pretty much the same thing but on a

professional basis?


The most impactful has to be getting to meet Agnetha herself, back in 2013. I babbled on to her about how much she meant to me, and I think I might have even told her about the yellow plaits: at which she looked suitably mystified.




If you could perform one song with the band, what would it be and why?


Only one?! Right now, it would probably be Don’t Shut Me Down, which was one of the first two songs that they released to promote the ABBA Voyage show back in 2021. It’s a message to their fans: “You asked me not to leave. Well, here I am again, and I love you still and so I won’t pretend... I have learned to cope and love and hope is why I am here now.” It still makes me emotional to hear that sentiment expressed in that way.



What are you most proud of with this production?


That we’ve been able to take a show on the road at a time when theatre is still struggling to get backon its feet post-COVID and amid the cost of living crisis, and that every single performance we see audiences on their feet, whooping and cheering, having had a great night. Listening to the laughter but also the gasps as people follow the plot twists is immensely gratifying.




Who should come and see the show, and why?


ABBA fans obviously. The casual fan will enjoy immersing themselves in the show, but real devotees will spot a lot of little details that they’ll hopefully appreciate. LGBT+ people: four out of the six characters are on the ‘rainbow spectrum’, and it’s a world where their friendships and romantic lives are explored in a light-hearted but meaningful way. But basically I think anyone who wants to have a good night out and a laugh. I’m very fond of the six characters that I’ve created, and our audiences seem to have fallen in love with them too, regardless of age, gender or sexuality!

 

Huge thanks to Ian for taking the time to answer these, and give us more insight into the makings of The Way Old Friends Do. It really is a joyous show, and I'm so glad it's getting the beautifully positive response it deserves - best of luck for the remainder of the tour and beyond.


Get your tickets to see it for yourself here:


Ian Hallard seen here as Agnetha.


Additional thanks to Ellie Maltby and Paul Sullivan for coordinating this interview.

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