The Way Old Friends Do at Criterion Theatre
A light-hearted, ABBA-themed romp about friendship, attitudes towards homosexuality, fandom and dressing up in drag: after a successful tour, The Way Old Friends Do makes its way to the West End’s Criterion Theatre.
Written by Ian Hallard and directed by his husband Mark Gatiss, this is the story of two old school friends who reconnect in their 40s after a chance meeting and end up forming the world’s first drag ABBA tribute band. They must then navigate the challenges of running a band, such as auditioning members, getting gigs, figuring out what to do when their Benny falls ill, and so on. But the stakes get even higher when love is on the cards.
ABBA fans will appreciate the Swedish band’s tracks played in snippets between every scene, and the constant ABBA trivia woven into the dialogue. But this is not a show about ABBA, so those who aren’t particularly familiar with ABBA won’t be left behind in a deluge of undecipherable references.
It’s sweet, it’s warming, it’s nice. Hallard’s writing follows good craft, tugging on emotions and building tension in just the right places. But it does feel like a small show: the big West End stage, the rotating set, which spells out ABBA, feels completely unnecessary and like it’s distracting from what actually makes this production special.
While Hallard’s script is solid throughout, not every joke is rip-roaringly funny. Many of them just raise a smile or a light chuckle. That is until the character of Mrs C says something: her lines are all genuinely hilarious and she is possibly the funniest character on the West End right now, played with impeccable comic timing by Sara Crowe and brilliantly directed by Gatiss. It’s almost worth watching just for her.
The rest of the cast are all great too. Hallard himself plays one of the leads, Peter, and it’s difficult to find a bad thing to say about his performance. Mrs C is the only really memorable character among them but the acting chops on display are top tier and none are out of place on the West End.
The Way Old Friends Do is a lovely and heartfelt play. Whether an ABBA fan or not, there’s plenty to enjoy in the writing and performances.
Images: Geraint Lewis
The Way Old Friends Do is at Criterion Theatre from 17th August until 9th September 2023. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.