Reviewed by Nikki Cotter
Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Ok, I’ll confess, I’m not ready to move on from the glorious bubble that was Eurovison just yet so when I spotted that The Way Old Friends Do, a new comedy with a heavy emphasis on everyone’s favourite Dancing Queens, Abba, was heading to The Lowry I jumped at the chance.
Penned by and starring Ian Hallard, The Way Old Friends Do introduces us to Peter (Hallard) a self-confessed Abba superfan and his former school friend, the filthy and fabulous Edward (James Bradshaw).
After a chance reunion via Grindr, their friendship is reignited when Edward ropes Peter into forming an Abba tribute band with a twist…they’ll be portraying Agnetha and Frida while wannabe actress Jodie (Rose Shalloo) takes on the role of Björn and rehearsal pianist Mrs. Campbell (Tariyé Peterside at tonight’s performance) is enrolled as a rather bemused and bearded Benny.
The story focuses on Peter and Edward’s friendship and the complexities of navigating suddenly being thrust together after many years, albeit wearing a wig and platform boots. At school both came out to each other, but while Edward announced he was gay, Peter unsure then about his sexuality declared himself a devoted Abba fan. Fast-forward to adulthood and Edward is living his authentic life while Peter is still struggling to share his truth with his beloved nan (voiced by Miriam Margolyes).
Halland’s touching portrayal of sweet-natured Peter is a beautiful watch, as he explores both this rekindled friendship and the lessons, he can learn from it. Culminating in a touching coming out scene as he calls his Nan to finally confide in her.
Bradshaw’s Edward in contrast is full on, flamboyant and seemingly fearless making his character not just entertaining but hugely endearing as we see the layers unpeel a little, revealing much more than meets the eye.
Tariyé Peterside is hilarious as Mrs Campbell, she makes the most of every witty line she’s gifted & seems happy to go with the flow as long of course as she’s having fun. Rose Shalloo gives us lots of laughs as struggling actor Jodie, Donna Berlin shines as Peter’s no nonsense BFF Sally, while Andrew Horton as the Aussie hunk with questionable intentions adds an unexpected layer to the story.
Hallard’s script is laugh out loud funny, he excels at witty one liners while there are meaningful moments littered throughout. Each character goes on their own journey, growing and developing as their friendships build. Bursts of Abba during the scene changes whet your appetite for a full cast performance which never fully materialises, something I can’t help but think would be the icing on the cake of this super fun production, however the fun facts delivered by super-fan Peter throughout will leave you hoping there’s an Abba round at your next pub quiz.
Janet Bird’s rotating set design is simple yet hugely effective, becoming a rehearsal room one moment and a sophisticated spa the next. This is complimented perfectly by her wonderful costumes which get progressively more fabulous as the band develops. Director Mark Gatiss has ensured the pace never drops while the more emotional scenes are given just the right amount of time to breathe. There’s a welcome sigh of affection as we hear Paul O’Grady’s voice as the radio DJ setting the year for each Act, adding to the sentimentality of this production .
The Way Old Friends Do will entertain you enormously, reward you with some inspired character development and remind you of the importance of true friendship. Uplifting, joyous theatre packed with plenty of heart.
The Way Old Friends Do is on at The Lowry until Saturday 27th May tickets available here.