ABBA grouping - Ian Hallard (Peter) + Rose Shalloo (Jodie) + Sara Crowe (Mrs Campbell) + James Bradshaw (Edward) - The Way Old Friends Do - credit Darren Bell

The Way Old Friends Do boasts impressive credentials. Directed by Mark Gatiss, written by Ian Hallard and starring Endeavour’s James Bradshaw, with voiceovers by Miriam Margoyles and the now deceased Paul O’ Grady, it’s worth the ticket before you even settle in your theatre seats.

But more than that who doesn’t love a bit of ABBA? What old friends do however is more to the point. In this case reunite and start an ABBA tribute band which is a great success, until it isn’t, slowly disintegrating due to infighting, while teaching us all a few lessons about what’s important in life.

James Bradshaw (Edward) + Ian Hallard (Peter) – The Way Old Friends Do – credit Darren Bell

If it sounds like a simple premise, it is, but no less joyous for it. Throw in homophobia, innuendoes, cross-dressing, social anxiety, childhood trauma, lust, some stupendous costumes (thanks to Janet Bird who also designed the rotating set), some hilarious one-liners, and far too much spandex for the middle aged tribute group than can be good for them, and, while highly flammable, they are also very entertaining.

But of course there is pathos; sadder, darker moments, that break through the light, frothy script and make you wince. Just hearing Paul O Grady‘s narrating voice early set us all off, but once the main characters are assembled, the more painful cracks begin to show.

Rose Shalloo (Jodie) + Donna Berlin (Sally) – The Way Old Friends Do – credit Darren Bell

James Bradshaw, who plays the very uptight Edward, (best known for his role as pathologist Dr. Max DeBryn in the ITV series Endeavour) soon comes clean about the school bullies, ‘coming out’ to an unforgiving world, and his rather unexciting marriage to one of his father’s old friends (bit creepy).

Funny, churlish, quick-witted, buttoned-up and properly old-school, fans of Endeavour, of whom there were many in the audience, enormously enjoyed Bradshaw’s camp transformation, which he obviously revels in.

James Bradshaw (Edward) + Andrew Horton (Christian) – The Way Old Friends Do – credit Darren Bell

Not that he isn’t a team player, the able cast taking on equal billing. Peter (Ian Hallard, who also wrote the script) his old school friend, is living a much more flamboyant bisexual life than his married friend, until they come up with their cunning plan to start an ABBA tribute band with a difference – with he and Edward playing Agnetha and Anni-Frid respectively.

Making up the full contingent is the hapless Jodie (Rose Salloo) who sees the new tribute group as her big break, and marvellous Mrs Campbell (Sara Crowe), then replaced in the band by the unwilling stage manager Sally (Donna Berlin).

Andrew Horton (Christian) moving onto Ian Hallard (Peter) – The Way Old Friends Do – credit Darren Bell

In fact, it’s all going far too well, until Christian (Andrew Horton) hits the scene, a super ABBA fan who seduces Edward all too easily. Edward racked with guilt takes to drink before Christian moves on to Peter and the whole happy family collapses.

The rest is for you to find out, but suffice to say in terms of glitter, costumes, sets, puns and memorable lines – ” I may have had a falafel wrap for lunch but that does not make me a vegetarian,” The Way Old Friends Do is a wonderful night of fun and frolics.

Fundamentally about friendship, get your tickets for the lycra alone. And the ABBA.

The Way Old Friends Do is at Oxford Playhouse until Saturday May 20. Book now at