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Review: The Way Old Friends Do at The Lowry is ‘phenomenal, unique and wholesome’

The Way Old Friends Do at The Lowry Quays Theatre is a side-splitting comedy infused with ABBA nostalgia, hilarious performances, witty one-liners, and a gender-bending twist that leaves the audience in stitches.

This week The Lowry Quays Theatre is hosting a very special show indeed.

This comedy, written by Ian Hallard and directed by Mark Gatiss, brings to life a wonderfully unique depiction of an enduring friendship that is punctuated with ABBA references and musical interludes.

The Way Old Friends Do is marvellously clever and has a brilliant cast of six who, whether you are a fan of ABBA or not, will have you chuckling at the quick quips and belly-laughing at the witty one-liners.

Two old friends, Peter and Edward, reunite after several years as the result of a Grindr mishap.

Rather than the one-night stand they were looking for with strangers, the two men reminisce about their younger years spent together.

Core memories are discussed, such as the time they disclosed personal secrets to each other: Edward’s homosexuality; Peter’s admiration of ABBA.

Over lunch the next day, they brainstorm ideas about how they can help Sally and her partner Dianne’s issue at the Library Theatre, where an ABBA tribute act has cancelled their nearly sold-out show.

Incredibly, they decided to step up into the role. However, they incorporate a twist to help them stand out from the saturated market of ABBA tribute acts… gender-bending the band members! Peter and Edward step up as vocalists Agnetha and Anni-Frid in drag, respectively, and they host auditions to cast women as Benny and Björn.

While the primary narrative centralises around a relatively wholesome tale of friendship, The Way Old Friends Do is a quintessential tribute to ABBA, without being an ABBA tribute act.

This stellar cast includes the show’s writer, Ian Hallard, stepping into the role of Peter. This only makes sense, given the semi-biographical nature of Hallard’s appreciation for ABBA.

Hallard presents a likeable Peter, whom you are routing for every step of the way. James Bradshaw gives us Edward, the ‘posh prat’ who takes some warming up to at first, but he wins us over soon enough. Sally is played by Donna Berlin, who is very good.

Sally volunteers to do the stage management of the shows, and keeps the boys grounded just enough so that they do not get themselves carried away, but provides enough encouragement so that they take it on in the first place.

Cast as Björn in the band is Jodie, played by Rose Shalloo, who gives us a young and naïve character in comparison with the rest of the cast and crew.

Andrew Horton is Christian, the press photographer, and Mrs Campbell is played by Sara Crowe, though Tariyé Peterside is equally funny understudying this role! In addition to this phenomenal cast are voices from notable public figures.

The wonderful Miriam Margolyes is the loving voice of Peter’s nan, and the beloved late Paul O’Grady is the radio DJ. These voices are a superb quality to employ and are so well executed on stage.

The set of The Way Old Friends Do is remarkable, Janet Bird’s design for the staging features one primary piece of the set.

Central to the stage on an elevated stage floor stands the word ABBA! The A’s at each end are doors, while the back-to-back B’s of the ABBA logo are inverted, and placed on a revolving floor to rotate in and out of settings.

The inner surfaces of the B’s are used as shelving to dress the set further, and the curvature of the letters holds incredibly effective strip lights, especially as the set revolves, signifying the jump in location.

It is brilliantly functional. With a set like this, the echoes and the influence of ABBA on these characters’ lives are unignorable.

The costumes and wigs are everything you would want to see from a drag ABBA tribute band, iconic outfits are brought back to life, like the 1975 cat dresses and the blue crochet beret once adorned by Agnetha.

The Way Old Friends Do is being performed at The Lowry, playing in the intimate Quays Theatre until Saturday 27th May 2023. Tickets start at just £19 and can be purchased by clicking here.

If you are looking for a fabulous night out one day this week, this is it!

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