The Way Old Friends Do, Theatre Royal, Bath Review

This is a comedy with a twist, several in fact – back in the 80s two schoolfriends swapped important confidences, one was gay and the other, more jaw-droppingly was a committed fan of ABBA. Much water has passed under the bridge since, thirty years have passed, and a chance meeting brings them together again. They decide to form an ABBA tribute band uniquely performed in drag but with boys playing the girls and vice versa. Could any friendship survive this turn of events : the life of a travelling band hobbled by platform boots and muffled by fake beards – and who is the mysterious and disruptive stranger?

Ian Hallard wrote the play and also takes the role of Peter, now middle-aged and once upon a time a librarian but always an ABBA fan since he was a child; he hooks up with his former schoolfriend Edward (James Bradshaw) through amateur dramatics and it is the two of them who bring to life the ABBA tribute band with gender-reversal. Sara Crowe is the very refined and Scottish Mrs Campbell and Rose Shalloo as the verbose Jodie makes up the four. Donna Berlin plays Sally the stage manager who eventually takes part in the show.



I was a tad disappointed that the songs were left unsung, but the cleverly rotating set shows the dressing room angst and banter where rivalries flourish, and boundaries are set. Andrew Horton plays Christian, the said mysterious stranger and malign influence on the group.

The play coasts along in a frivolous and light-hearted fashion but is more about the pitfalls of unrequited love than ABBA in the fan zone, and the plot requires a minor suspension of disbelief as the quartet’s unlikely career takes off whilst their personal lives crumble. There’s plenty of ripe innuendo and bad language; not so much acid-tongued Lily Savage (the late and much-loved Paul O’Grady is the voice of the radio DJ) but more gentle campery worked especially well by James Bradshaw as Edward. It’s very different and certainly shows Benny, Björn, Agnetha and Anni-Frid in a different light!

Jacquie Vowles

Theatre Royal Bath, Sawclose, Bath BA1 1ET. 30 May – 3 June




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