Following the news yesterday of Paul O’Grady’s unexpected death, last night’s performance of The Way Old Friends Do at London’s Park Theatre was dedicated to the comedian and drag legend, whose voice opens the show. Writer and star Ian Hallard paid tribute to O’Grady before curtain-up, and we started the post-show talk with Ian and director Mark Gatiss recalling how enthusiastically O’Grady recorded his voiceovers – despite not loving ABBA.
It was Ian Hallard‘s own love of ABBA that inspired him to pen The Way Old Friends Do, and his lifelong desire to play Agnetha, with her long blonde locks, that inspired him to centre the story around the world’s first drag ABBA tribute band.
The new comedy, which premiered at Birmingham Rep last month before transferring to London’s Park Theatre, 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.
But can their friendship survive the tribulations of life on the road; one full of platform boots, fake beards and a distractingly attractive stranger? Tender and laugh-out-loud funny in equal measures, this heartfelt story will appeal to anyone who understands how it feels to be a fan: of ABBA or of anyone.
The Way Old Friends Do is directed by Hallard’s real-life husband Mark Gatiss (Sherlock, Dracula, Doctor Who, The League of Gentlemen). It was great to reunite with the couple for another Park Theatre Q&A after the 2016 revival of Mart Crowley’s 1968 gay classic The Boys in the Band, in which they both appeared.
At the post-show talk, in addition to them, we were joined by Hallard’s fellow The Way Old Friends Do cast members Sara Crowe, Rose Shalloo, Donna Berlin, James Bradshaw and Andrew Horton – as well as Ian and Mark’s exceptionally well-behaved Labrador Bob.
Paul O’Grady, ABBA, couple co-working, friendships, the precariousness of theatre post-pandemic, booing baddies, why Birmingham deserves more representation, and the joys of fandom were amongst the many topics covered.
Event photography by Peter Jones.
— Terri Paddock (@TerriPaddock) March 29, 2023