Review: The Way Old Friends Do at the Birmingham Rep

Writer: Ian Hallard

Director: Mark Gates

Two friends who share a love of ABBA face an unexpected reunion 30 years after leaving school. From there, a spark of an idea develops to form a new ABBA tribute band, but with a twist…the band will be a full drag act. Don’t be fooled though, this Priscilla meets Full Monty meets Calendar Girls holds a sense of authenticity and truth while containing a story that twists in a way you wouldn’t expect.

The foundations of Ian Hallard’s hilarious camp comedy about friendship, the camaraderie of being in a fandom is mainly around the trials and tribulations of the band and the impact it has on its protagonist Edward and Peter. However set before and after Covid, it also has a lot to say about pursuing dreams, being together and never losing sight of those closest to you.

Hallard’s sassy wit shines most through James Bradshaw’s Edward. A middle aged gay man in a long term relationship, desperate to find to share his passion of all things ABBA with and overcoming a sense of isolation.

Answering the call is Hallard as Peter, an old best friend who, through unexpected events, rekindles the friendship they once had. Bradshaw’s Peter gives Hallard’s Peter the strength to overcome inner demons of embrassment and self-consciousness which opens up to a moving moment between Peter and his Gran (voiced by Miriam Margolyes)

You can’t create an ABBA tribute band with just two people, though, and so in come Rose Shalloo as Jodie and Tariyé Peterside as Mrs Campbell. Shalloo’s Jodie is your traditional comic character, an awkward, over chatty, yet sincere and excitable character which juxtaposes Tariyé dry humoured Mrs Campbell.

Donna Berlin’s Sally, stage manages the band. A dear friend to Peter, Berlin gives a straight talking, no nonsense approach to those around her – particularly to Peter.

The company bounce of each other incredibly well and so its very easy to buy into this instant repaul that’s created. Through both Hallard’s book and Mark Gates’ direction we get the vulnerability of each character, while also experiencing a level of authenticity thats felt between them. It makes the play so easy to to connect with.

You’d perhaps think that the show would climax with the creation of the tribute act. However, with it finishing the first act, its after the interval where the drama starts to take a turn. Enter Andrew Horton, a young dashing mega ABBA fan called Edward who operates the largest group of ABBA fans on Facebook. Don’t be caught out by the dashing looks though. There’s more than meets the eye to this handsome mega fan.

The unfolding plot at points almost touches on farce territory but equally is rooted in realism. It’s this clever blend that makes the performance sit firmly in reality and relatable for so many, whether you be part of a fandom, have a love for ABBA, are a member of the LGBTQ+ community or simply just want a great night out.

Janet Bird uses a revolve to keep the action going. Bird’s use of the letters ABBA creates a blank canvas where props can be added offstage. Each turn of the revolve reveals a well dressed, intricate set is perfectly matched with an ABBA song to reflect the moment and Andrew Exeter’s high energy colourful lighting to keep the energy alive.

The laughs don’t stop in this ‘ABBA’solutely fantastic and at times beautiful new comedy. So many will be able to resonate with this fun and warm-hearted focus on friendship, togetherness, and being part of a community. This bittersweet story will have you laughing in your seat, gasping in shock, and perhaps even wiping away a tear or two.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Five Coins

Value for Money Comments:
An incredibly funny play with a clever set and a great cast. Priced between £17.50 and £29.50

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