Monday, June 5

The Way Old Friends Do – The Lowry

“The Way Old Friends Do,” written by Ian Hallard, is an engaging, light-hearted comedy that playfully straddles the line between homage to iconic pop band ABBA and an exploration of significant societal themes. Balancing the frivolity of a tribute band with weightier undertones of male friendship, homophobia, and familial relationships, the play invites audiences to a narrative filled with laughter and introspection.

The story pivots around Peter (played by the writer; Ian Hallard), a middle-aged former librarian and ABBA superfan who reunites with his old school friend, Edward (James Bradshaw). Their coincidental reunion leads them to form half of a gender-reversed ABBA tribute show, alongside the prim Mrs. Campbell (Triyé Peterside) and the endearingly anxious Jodie (Rose Shalloo). The dynamics of this quirky quartet, coupled with the passionate stage management of Sally (Donna Berlin), form the backbone of the plot, offering both comedic moments and emotional depth.

Directed by Mark Gatiss with vivacity, the play keeps the tribute band’s performances off-stage, a choice that enhances the anticipation and charm. Yet, it’s the rotating set, a brainchild of Janet Bird, that truly steals the spotlight. The ingenious set reveals a spectrum of scenes from backstage banter to the evolving relationships within the group, drawing the audience deeper into the narrative.

Hallard’s portrayal of Peter is charismatic and endearing, with the progression of his friendship with Edward providing the story’s emotional core. Bradshaw’s portrayal of Edward adds complexity to the narrative, as his character develops from a Larry Grayson-esque figure to a more nuanced personality. The female characters, while not central to the plot, add their own charm, particularly Peterside’s portrayal of a seemingly uptight Caribbean woman with some great one-liners.

Andrew Horton’s role as Christian, the young disruptor, although feeling somewhat like a plot device, adds another layer of intrigue.

Dressed in ABBA-inspired costumes, the band brings an element of nostalgia and vibrancy that elevates the show’s aesthetic appeal.

Amidst the laughter and witty one-liners, the play manages to tackle the scars left by generational homophobia. The most striking scene is where Peter, not entirely out, reveals his orientation to his grandmother (voiced by Miriam Margolyes), an awkwardly comic yet deeply tender moment that strikes a chord.

However, the overall tone of the play leans more towards light-hearted comedy, possibly missing opportunities to delve deeper into its themes. Regardless, it is packed with entertainment, laughter, and a charming exploration of friendship, making it a must-watch for not just ABBA fans but anyone seeking a fun, heartfelt theatrical experience. Playing until May 27, “The Way Old Friends Do” is a beautifully woven narrative that celebrates ABBA, friendship, and the courage to be oneself.

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Reviewer: Brian Madden

Reviewed: 22nd May 2023

North West End UK Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.