Fringe Box



Stage Dragon Review: The way Old Friends Do at the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre

Published on: 19 Apr, 2023
Updated on: 19 Apr, 2023

By Ferenc Hepp

The Birmingham Rep production of The Way Old Friends Do presented by James Seabright in association with Jason Haigh-Ellery and Park Theatre is stopping off at the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre this week as part of its national tour.

Andrew Horton (Christian) sat down in The Way Old Friends Do at the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre. Photo Darren Bell.

The tour started in Birmingham in February and ends up in York in June, covering a lot of regional venues along the way. The play was written by Ian Hallard and directed by his husband, Mark Gatiss. They have worked together before, but this was the first time as a writer and director for the stage.

The set is very cleverly designed by Janet Bird, with the letters of ABBA forming the backdrop on a revolve, where the two A-s are doors, and the two B-s in the middle being the back wall of the setting for each scene. It means there are no clunky scene changes, as the scenery is prepared behind the revolve as the action continues on stage.

Donna Berlin (Sally) and Ian Hallard (Peter) hug in The Way Old Friends Do at the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre. Photo Darren Bell.

There is a rather sad nostalgic moment, when we hear the voice of the recently departed national treasure, Paul O’Grady introducing the setting as spring 2015, where two school friends, Peter and Edward, reunite after 30 years, having tentatively come out all that time ago as gay and an ABBA fan respectively.

The intention is to form the world’s first drag ABBA tribute band, and it is on this journey that we meet the other characters.

Ian Hallard (Peter) and James Bradshaw (Edward) in The Way Old Friends Do at the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre. Photo Darren Bell.

The author, Ian Hallard, also plays Peter, a confident bachelor with his own flat, but also someone who has not felt the need to ‘come out’ to his mother (voiced by Miriam Margolyes).

Having chatted on the gay dating app of Grindr, Edward (James Bradshaw) visits Peter to talk about old times and the forming of this tribute band.

The chemistry between Hallard and Bradshaw is clear and consistent throughout. Neither of them is very confident about how successful this venture may turn out to be. At one point, Peter worries that he is going to be “less Agnetha, and more Ann Widdecombe”, but with the help of Jodie (Rose Shalloo) and Mrs Campbell (Sara Crowe) who turn into Benny and Bjorn, they achieve unexpected success.

Ian Hallard (Peter) on the phone to Nan (Miram Margolyes) in The Way Old Friends Do at the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre. Photo Darren Bell.

We first meet Jodie as she nervously prepares for her audition, and Shalloo portrays a distinct journey from an overtalking nervous young woman to a performer.

Crowe as Mrs Campbell often regularly attracts the laughs, especially when donning a beard, as she appears to be the least likely person to be part of any tribute band.

Crowe and Bradshaw particularly stood out for me, as they played very real and ‘ordinary’ people, but in an interesting and very humorous manner, and you could clearly see how this project affected them.

Stage manager Sally (Donna Berlin) also gets involved rather reluctantly due to the indisposition of Mrs Campbell at one point. The young and handsome photographer and owner of an ABBA fan page on Facebook, Christian (Andrew Horton) befriends the men and helps them find limited fame.

However, does this come with a price? And how will the charms of this young man affect Peter and Edward’s relationship and future?

Both Berlin and Horton added an interesting dimension to the story, which did start off a little slow, but picked up pace, humour and curiosity after the interval.

The Way Old Friends Do runs until Saturday, April 22 and tickets are available online here or at the box office or by telephone on 01483 440000.

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