Eighteen months is more than enough time to appreciate all the things we might once have taken have taken for granted, so it was with excitement that I arrived at The Shaftsbury Theatre for the first night of ABBA Mania, in my opinion one of the best and most enduring tribute bands.
The venue might be undergoing something of a makeover but its interior looked as opulent as ever as I entered. Going through the usual checks was relatively straight forward; temperature taken on the way in and contact details registered for track and trace purposes (helpful hint: make sure you’ve downloaded the NHS App and save having to check in).
I first saw this band play during a successful run at the Strand Theatre in 2002: a scary thought that almost 20 years have slipped by. But I am pleased to report they are just as accomplished as ever. The required mindset for the production is attending ABBA’s final live show, but what it really boils down to is a greatest hits package, so it happily discards any pretension. The current line-up, consisting of Rhiannon Porter (Agnetha), Jojo Desmond (Frida), Loucas Hajiantoni (Benny) and Edward Handoll (Bjorn), are all consummate performers, backed by a solid three-piece band featuring Anders Rye on guitar, Dan Hall on bass and Paul Gregory on drums.
The show opens with a brief biography of the band on a backscreen. It settles on the Eurovision Song Contest in 1974, as a global phenomenon sowed its first seeds. The classic Phil Spector-inspired Waterloo was first up, followed by Voulez-Vous, with a pinch of Lady Marmalade added for good measure. The girls departed for a costume change after the fourth number and returned in black macs to perform Money, Money, Money. Sounding like a James Bond soundtrack, the intro to Mamma Mia built itself up, before morphing into the familiar piano duelling with guitar. Finishing the first act was the toe tapping, footstomper that is Take a Chance on Me, which had people dancing in their seats.
The second act began with the girls resplendent in gold lame and a high octane version of Lay All Your Love on Me. Tamsin and Jojo sang beautifully throughout, but only occasionally nailed a close vocal resemblance to the ABBA girls. They pulled it off on Super Trouper and Name of the Game but fell short on Chiquitita. The rousing finale featured the brilliantly crafted Dancing Queen accompanied by the obligatory glitterball. It was the very definition of feelgood glamour and an ideal tonic to current restrictions.
Fab production aside, the behaviour of one group in the audience was very disruptive. Already intoxicated from the start, one lady in particular was on the floor by the end of the evening, having shrieked through the show and climbed across seats to meet friend. The front of house staff did offer to move me into another seat, but I felt they could have done more to manage the situation, particularly with Covid restrictions so pertinent. This slightly marred what was otherwise a really great night out.
Directed and Choreography by: Tamsin Stewart
Musical Supervision by: Duncan Walsh Atkins
Produced by: Todd Littlewood (TAL Entertainment), Guy Chapman, Handshake Ltd
Abba Mania plays at Shaftesbury Theatre until 6 June. It then tours nationally until October. All dates can be found on Abba Mania website via the below link.