REVIEW: The Way Old Friends Do @ Theatre Royal Brighton

May 4, 2023

Review by Eric Page

In the late 1980s, two Birmingham school friends tentatively come out: one as gay, the other – more shockingly – as an ABBA fan. Thirty years later, they reunite to form the world’s first ABBA tribute band – in drag. Can their friendship survive the tribulations of a life on the road; one full of platform boots, fake beards and a distractingly attractive stranger?

The two main characters are friends from school who meet by chance one evening and re-bond over a shared love of ABBA. They share their divergent life experiences of the last few decades which have however ended up with them both in the same room again.

This fun, engaging and silly show starring and written by Ian Hallard, and directed by husband Mark Gatiss, will certainly be enjoyed by anyone with an above average knowledge of ABBA and their history, but can also be enjoyed for what it is; a witty, sharp comedy based around a group of people and a pair of old friends who are changed by the experience they all share.

It’s a fun exploration of obsessive fandom, where people argue or friendships are ruined by differences of interpretation. Showing the sometimes-desperate need obsessive fans have for validation from their focus and how any threat or change to the status quo of that relationship can rock their emotional boats.

There’s a savage and bitchy exploration of the queer ABBA experience and how that has mirrored the lives of a certain type of acid tongued gay men shielding their vulnerabilities – hurt by burnished shields of barbed wit and golden arrows of perfectly aimed sarcasm. Indeed, some of the biggest laughs of the night came from this savage gay sarcasm.


It’s balanced both in tone and charm by the lesbian character, who gets some of the best comebacks of the night, full of seen-it-all-before charming dismissal of the cynical jokes, and the utterly beguiling slightly frumpy Scottish pianist who defies assumptions with their sharp observations and enthusiasm for life.

Full cast and creatives here

We get some light touch explorations of intersections of gender and race, which allows for wry laughter. Some super tart gay exchanges between the men and hilarious political commentary in the play as it starts in 2015 and comes up to the current day. The audience relishing the savage spearing of some of our political leaders from the last decade.

At its heart it’s warm and cosy, even if at times it can come across as brittle, sharp and selfish, and there’s a lesson in that for us all…


The set, rather charmingly, did a lot of the work, lit up in a host of different ways and turning for each situation and set change, the simple elegant lines and throbbing LEDs offering suggestions of a myriad of different places and moving the play onwards with a relentless speed.

I’m not (whisper it) an ABBA fan, can’t tell my Benny from my Agnetha, but I enjoyed this daft at heart comedy, deeply traditional in its presentation but radically modern in its exploration of the complex moral, sexual and friendship narratives behind the story. We eventually got to a pretty happy ending for those that deserved it and a more complicated one for those who needed that.

The second half picked up the speed, a memorable coming out scene on the phone between one of our main characters and his Nan, a softening of the brittleness which allows the heart of the play to shine through. The first act felt a little too long and that must be the most irritating opening five minutes of any play I’ve seen, well done writers!

Great fast paced fun for fans of modern relationship comedy, with some delightful lines for the two single female characters, its light touch while pretending to be something deeper, which is always a good sleight of hand on the stage, and a must for those who worship at the Alter of ABBA with plenty of original music scattered throughout the evening.

Until 6th May at Theatre Royal Brighton.

For more info or to book tickets see the Theatre Royal Brighton’s website via this link