It’s been one of the most talked about shows of the last year, and rumoured for years before it was even announced – now after all the hype ABBA Voyage has finally arrived at its own purpose built arena. I went to the first night to see it for myself and spoiler alert – this Dancing Queen had the time of his life!
London has no shortage of ABBA themed shows to go to with Mamma Mia! and Mamma Mia! The Party giving fans their much needed fix, but can you ever really have too much ABBA? The ABBA arena is situated next to Pudding Mill Lane, probably the most hilariously British named station there is. Futuristic and immediately iconic in appearance, you are greeted by ABBA’s instantly recognisable logo lighting up the London sky on arrival. Inside, you are met with a choice of food and drink outlets (ABBA water with a reusable bottle for £4.50. Obviously I bought one) and a shop selling a host of new and exclusive merchandise. Doors to the building open 1 hour 45 minutes before the performance with the actual arena opening 1 hour before, giving you plenty of time to take it all in – this isn’t just a normal concert, this is a full on ABBA experience.
That experience amplifies the moment you set foot inside the arena with atmospheric music playing through the arena. When the curtain comes down at 7.45 (for the evening performance, there are also matinees) prepare for your jaw to drop and for it not to be picked up for the next jam packed 90 minutes.
It’s hard to describe exactly what transpires on that stage, especially without giving away the secrets a pre-show announcement asks of you. I’ll make this as spoiler free as possible but if you want to be completely surprised, stop reading now.
The moment the four ABBAtars appear on stage, quite honestly I didn’t know what I was looking at. You know they’re not real, you’ve heard about them for quite a while now but seeing them in the flesh (for lack of a better word) is breath-taking. So intricate in detail and so lifelike, it really was like watching the future come to life in front of your eyes. Of course, there was something in the back of my mind expecting them to turn into Terminators but, to be honest, I’d be quite happy if the apocalypse was caused by ABBA.
I was in the front row on opening night and even then I couldn’t still quite work out how they were being projected on to the stage quite so seamlessly. I think I figured it out in the end, but you’d think it would be glaringly obvious being that close to the stage – it was not. So much so that when ABBA in their present form were projected on to the stage, the woman next to me was convinced it was really them – and you could not tell her otherwise!
While Björn & Benny, Agnetha & Frida might not be real, there are plenty of real people on that stage with a highly talented group of musicians and backing singers bringing the songs to life. Being brought front and centre during ‘Does Your Mother Know’, they accompany the four legends perfectly.
If you think watching the ABBAtars would get boring, you underestimate the creative genius of this show which uses different methods to mix up each performance, from turning them into giant projections to video interludes. The level of detail in this production including the narrative is what makes it feel authentic. While it would be easy for them to snap their fingers and transform into a different outfit, they leave the stage for their outfit changes with videos playing or one of the band members talking to the audience during that time – a subtle but clever touch.
The technology in this show is like nothing I have ever seen before with the single best use of lighting in any show. Lights pulse around the arena, going as far as behind the audience with surprise elements dropping from the roof above the audience - transforming the arena time and time again. These techniques are versatile in their approach ensuring they are never boring and always exciting.
As for the setlist, the 20 song show features a mix of their classic hits, a couple from their latest amazing album Voyage and even a couple of deep cuts you may not have expected. Of course, with a catalogue as vast as theirs, some songs were always not going to make the cut so if you’re expecting a bit of ‘Take A Chance On Me’, ‘Money, Money, Money’ or ‘Super Trouper’ you may be waiting a fair while (though 22 songs were apparently recorded, meaning the show may get revised at some point). Quite honestly, the ABBAtars could have performed A*Teens covers and I would have been happy, though of course the legendary songbook they have crafted over the past 50 years gives this show an extra level of brilliance.
ABBA Voyage is a show like no other. Technically advanced and perfectly executed, this pushes the boundaries of what can be achieved with a live show. Feeling like you are setting foot in a sci-fi movie, the future is here and God is it exciting? ABBA Voyage is one of the best nights you are guaranteed to have in your life, and will sure enough change the landscape of possibility for future shows. If, like me, you are devastated you never got to see the four members of ABBA perform together, this really is the next best thing. With all the joy this show is bringing, all that’s left to say is thank you for the Voyage.
"Hole in Your Soul"
"Knowing Me, Knowing You"
"Does Your Mother Know"
"Lay All Your Love on Me"
"Summer Night City"
"Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight)"
"When All Is Said and Done"
"Don't Shut Me Down"
"I Still Have Faith in You"
"Thank You for the Music"
"The Winner Takes It All"
ABBA Voyage is currently booking until May 28th 2023 with tickets available at https://abbavoyage.com/
Photos by Johan Persson