Review: ABBA MANIA, Shaftesbury Theatre

ABBA MANIA offers uncomplicated and undoubted pleasures with this effervescent tribute concert at the Shaftesbury Theatre

“You’ll be dancing once again and the pain will end”

Even on a Friday night after a pre-show drink or two, it feels bold to try and get a British audience up on their feet dancing by the fourth song of a show. But to their credit, the performers and musicians of ABBA MANIA attempt and achieve just that, riding the collective waves of goodwill towards being in a theatre again and one of the most poptastic songbooks in all of music history.

& Juliet won’t return to the Shaftesbury until 24th September so the theatre is taking on a few temporary tenants until then, the first of which is the return of this ABBA tribute concert. It really doesn’t try to do anything more than it needs to, just a couple of hours playing through some of the best pop songs ever written. With some epic costume recreations from Paul Aspinall, some daft choreography for the audience to join in with and a pair of seriously impressive voices, it makes for an entirely seductive mixture.

Clearly, your reaction to the show will depend on your feelings about ABBA but let’s face it, this isn’t the kind of show you end up at by accident. Whether fans from back in the day, avid ABBA Gold listeners (raises hand) or part of the Mamma Mia generation, these are songs that have wound their way into the collective consciousness and yet somehow still feel newly charged with fresh energy from their opening notes, whether the choral aahs that open ‘Dancing Queen’, the strummed guitar of ‘Chiquitita’,  the strident arpeggios of ‘Gimme Gimme Gimme’.

Led by highly personable performances from Rhiannon Porter’s Agnetha and JoJo Desmond’s Anni-Frid, there’s no wavering in the quality of Tamsin Stewart’s production here. Both women bring powerhouse vocal strength but respect the material enough not to over-embellish. And though theirs are less showy roles, Edward Handoll’s Björn and Loucas Hajiantoni’s Benny (also the MD) offer sterling support alongside the talented band. ABBA MANIA is pure entertainment and it is hard to argue that this isn’t exactly what the West End needs right now as it tries to tempt audiences back.

Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes (with interval)
Photos: Mark Senior
ABBA MANIA is booking at the Shaftesbury Theatre until 6th June

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