When old school friends Peter and Edward reconnect through the most unlikely circumstance (a Grindr match!), their shared love of all-things ABBA leads them to form their own drag tribute band, and we follow their personal stories through glimpses of the journey of the band as what was meant to be one show becomes a more regular touring gig.
Though character depth and progression are lacking throughout this production, Ian Hallard (playwright and cast member) is to be commended for some powerful moments of nuance in his portrayal of Peter. However, the star of this show is Sara Crowe, delivering a triumphant performance as Mrs Campbell, ranging from bumbling hilarity in the ditsy older lady trope to some heartfelt moments of profound sincerity. We find ourselves delighted at the delivery of her every line, and wishing she was on stage every scene that she’s not.
Other performances don’t quite do justice to the cutting wit of Hallard’s script, and it seems the cast needs a little more time to generate chemistry with one another to really make the most of the quick comedy and emotional waves of this play. However, it is worth noting that raucous laughter bounced off the walls of the Criterion for most of the production, so this really is just one reviewer’s opinion! The quality of the script and twists and turns of the plot also still manage to shine, evoking audible gasps of shock, despair and pure empathy from an invested audience.
Unfortunately, the final performance of ‘Dancing Queen’ can only be described as lacklustre, a shame given the energy within the audience, but is perhaps an accurate reflection of the energy offered for most of the show.
The set is innovatively designed to reflect the iconic “ABBA” logo, and the large letters are used to great effect, clearly transporting us from bedroom to restaurant to dressing room and back again. The revolving ‘B’s to reveal our next set while a snippet of an ABBA hit is played becomes a little repetitive, but the sets revealed really are beautiful and quickly immerse us in the next location of this fast-moving story. The technical theatre is consistently employed to great effect, and credit, in particular, should be given to Janet Bird’s set and Andrew Exeter’s lighting.
For a perfectly enjoyable evening with some lovely sentiments, especially if you’re an ABBA fan, it’s probably worth a visit while it’s here.
The Way Old Friends Do runs at The Criterion until 9 September. Tickets from £15: here.
Review: Penny Lane Photo: Geraint Lewis