Mark Gatiss & Ian Hallard at The Way Old Friends Do post-show Q&A on 21 August 2023. © Stella Bell

Mark Gatiss & Ian Hallard at The Way Old Friends Do post-show Q&A on 21 August 2023. © Stella Bell

In the first of my post-show Q&As for the West End premiere of ABBA drag tribute band comedy The Way Old Friends Do, with writer and star Ian Hallard and his director and real-life husband Mark Gatiss, it felt like Agnetha, Björn, Benny and Anni-Frid were with us in spirit.

Certainly, Ian Hallard – whose idea for his debut stage play was born from the dictate to write what you know, as well as his own actor’s dream role desire to play Agnetha – wasn’t the only Swedish superband superfan in the attendance.

If the sea of hands that shot up when I asked who identified as ABBA diehards wasn’t clue enough, the first audience question – raising the suspicion of a Eurovision conspiracy – provided solid proof. Of course, Ian answered that opener without hesitation.

First written in the summer of 2019, and updated to include a post-pandemic final scene, the comedy centres on two school friends from Birmingham who, in the 1980s, tentatively came out to one another: one as gay, the other as an ABBA fan. Nearly thirty years later, a chance meeting via Grindr leads them to form the world’s first ABBA tribute band – in drag.

The Way Old Friends Do premiered at Birmingham Rep in February before transferring to London’s Park Theatre in March – where I chaired a Q&A following the performance dedicated to drag legend Paul O’Grady, whose voice features in the show, on the day that O’Grady died – and touring nationwide.

Hallard is joined in the West End cast by Donna Berlin, Sara Crowe, Andrew Horton, Rose Shalloo and Anton Tweedale. In addition to Paul O’Grady, the play features the voice of Miriam Margolyes.

The Way Old Friends Do continues at the West End’s Criterion Theatre until 9 September 2023. The second of my post-show Q&As, with Ian Hallard and the full cast, takes place on 4 September.

Q&A video

Q&A photos

Event photography by Darren Ross and Stella Bell.

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