Gig review: ABBA Voyage at the ABBA Arena, London

Five and a half years in the making, ABBA’s Voyage show finally opened in stunning style last night at a specially constructed arena in Pudding Mill Lane, close to the site of the 2012 London Olympic Park.

By Duncan Seaman
Friday, 27th May 2022, 4:55 pm
Updated Friday, 27th May 2022, 5:14 pm
Abba Voyage at the Abba Arena near the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in east London. Picture: Johan Persson/Abba Voyage/PA Wire
Abba Voyage at the Abba Arena near the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in east London. Picture: Johan Persson/Abba Voyage/PA Wire

Much debate beforehand had centred on how the avatars of the Swedish quartet would measure up, but such is the brilliance of Industrial Light and Magic’s rendering of the youthful Agnetha Fältskog, Benny Andersson, Björn Ulvaeus and Anni-Frid Lyngstad, it is very easy to forget that the four figures onstage are in fact a digital illusion.

The attention to detail in costumes – designed by Dolce & Gabbana – and movements is mind-boggling while the use of a highly capable seven-piece live band with three backing singers cleverly helps to blur the line between illusion and reality.

Add in Grade A lighting effects that swoop and revolve around the 3,000-seat theatre-like auditorium, and animated sequences fit to grace a Hollywood film, and it’s an incredibly immersive experience.

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Abba Voyage at the Abba Arena near the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in east London. Picture: Johan Persson/Abba Voyage/PA Wire

The 100-minute set is intelligently paced with a couple of opening surprises in the form of the title track from their 1981 album The Visitors and a rocky Hole in My Soul from 1977’s ABBA The Album before settling into crowd-pleasing mode with a run of greatest hits that include SOS, Knowing Me, Knowing You, Chiquitita and Fernando, the last of which is particularly spine-tingling.

There’s a playfulness too, with Andersson’s avatar pronouncing “To be or not to be – that is no longer the question”, and a humorous pause for a quick ‘costume change’.

An update of Does Your Mother Know wisely reverses the main protagonists’ genders, with the female backing singers taking the lead and the song’s lyrics revised to the now more politically acceptable “Boy, you’re only a child”.

A sequence that starts with Lay All Your Love On Me and ends with a punchy Voulez-Vous plunges us headlong into the disco accompanied by some spectacular graphics.

Abba Voyage at the Abba Arena near the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in east London. Picture: Johan Persson/Abba Voyage/PA Wire

It’s then counterbalanced by the more ruminative When All Is Said and Done, then Don’t Shut Me Down and I Still Have Faith in You from ABBA’s 2021 reunion Voyage are a poignant reminder of the passage of time. The idea of a ‘young’ ABBA confronting mortality singing songs written from a seventy-something perspective is deeply moving.

A rousing Waterloo uses original footage from the 1974 Eurovision Song Contest that launched the band internationally. They wryly remind us that the UK jury on the night awarded them nul points, but it’s clear that the faux pas has been forgiven.

If Thank You For The Music is intended to get the whole audience singing, then a euphoric Dancing Queen has them up on their feet, swaying in unison, while in the encore The Winner Takes It All is transformed from a regret-filled ballad into a song of soaring defiance.

A triumph from concept to delivery, matching some of the finest songs in popular music with cutting-edge feats of technology, this show simply has to be seen to be believed. It also seems destined to run and run – and is likely to be much imitated by bands of a similar vintage. But remember, ABBA got there first.

ABBA Voyage continues until May 2023. abbavoyage.com