Deciding to come out can be a daunting and emotion-fuelled process, whether you be gay... or disclosing your deep rooted passion for Swedish supergroup, ABBA. For two old friends, who unexpectedly encounter each other in a somewhat unorthodox scenario, the pair have almost 30 years to catch up on since they were in school together. Although appearing to be a precarious start, their reunion soon becomes a venture that both brings them together, and tests their limits: a tribute band with a twist, filled with dedication, devotion and desire. With direction from Mark Gatiss, and written by Ian Hallard- who also excellently executes the lovable leading role of Peter- The Way Old Friends Do is a joyous, laugh out loud comedy that will make you want to dust off your platform boots.
A very poignant opening hushes the auditorium into collective gratitude, as the beloved Paul O'Grady's voice emerges from the radio- a more perfect beginning to the drag dancing queens' origin story is simply unimaginable. Waiting for an audition, the high-pitched, nervous talker Jodie (played by Rose Shalloo) meets Sally (Donna Berlin), who works with local theatre company. After Edward (James Bradshaw) and Peter stumble through an initial meeting, they later discover that an ABBA tribute has pulled out from Sally's line up, and between them, the bright idea of becoming a replacement is formed... with gender bending roles becoming the USP. Struggling to find the perfect people for the boys in the band- particularly one to don a fake beard- Jodie finds her place (albeit it, as a man, which seems a theme in her past roles), and lovely old Mrs Campbell, played brilliantly and humourously by Sara Crowe, gets a spot too, knowing that it will be great fun to get involved. Fellow fan, Christian (Andrew Horton), may come and stir things up a little though...
The characterisation is great across the board, presenting a really well-cast show. Sally's gripes with Edward, and the simultaneous rocky relationship between him and Peter make for a wealth of drama to accompany the jokes. The voice of Miriam Margolyes becomes 'Nan', adding a touching element to the softer side of the storyline, which overall presents a good balance of content, making you thankful for the friends around you, but also want to take them for a proper night out.
At first glance, the large set adorning the stage designed by Janet Bird appears to cleverly read ABBA, while still being functional and futuristic. However, when in motion, the rotating stage has buckets of potential, and transforms the area countless times, keeping the play at pace, with brief interludes of tracks you will undoubtedly recognise. Also conceiving the costumes, there is much frolicking around in lycra, embodying the iconic looks interestingly... and holding plenty of comedic value in their flaunting: some is just a tad tacky, but in the absolute best and necessary way.
While it is generally a piece that can be appreciated by all in its heartfelt and funny moments combined, there is certainly additional perks to being an ABBA fan, with layers of meaning clearer with references such as the outfits from various tour venues, or Frida's break up hair to name just a couple... but who on earth isn't? The Way Old Friends Do is such a glowing production. My my, how could you resist it?