(seen at the afternoon performance on 12th June 2022).
THE FOLLOWING IS AN OPINION OF THE SHOW. IT DOES NOT CONTAIN “SPOILERS” ABOUT THE SONGS FEATURED, BUT DOES CONTAIN INFORMATION ABOUT THE PRESENTATION WHICH SOME READERS MAY WISH NOT TO READ UNTIL AFTER THEY HAVE SEEN IT.
For a theatremonkey to launch a guerrilla (or even gorilla) attack on an iconic band would be pointless, particularly as it is a fan. It had so looked forward to this experience and what follows is its genuine professional opinion on it.
Truthfully, it has never felt quite so ripped-off in its many years of attending events.
The warning comes on the way in, where £15 gets you a programme about the size of a paperback book but not nearly as thick. The monkey passed.
As to the show itself, the monkey was lucky enough to see “Captain EO” in Disneyland, California back in the late 1980s. For those who caught it there or in any of the other Disney Parks since, "ABBA Voyage" is familiar territory. You won’t need the 3D glasses - projecting the performer has moved on a little... sadly, just not nearly so far as the marketeers of this new show would have you believe.
The much talked about “ABBAtars” inhabit the centre of a wide stage. They can move forward a little, but there is always at least five metres between audience and images.
From the side arena seat the monkey had, the famous four appeared unnaturally thin and wiry tall, a cross between the aliens in "Close Encounters of Third Kind" and "Ready Brek" kids with a strange outline glow around them. Apparently captured “live” over many studio hours, there is still no natural life movement about these images. Individual hairs don’t flick, not a facial muscle ripples.
For those (like the monkey) who is used to live concerts, the experience thus really is nothing like that. These avatars cannot work with the audience, feeding off and reflecting the energy, altering responses and sweating visibly to produce a unique show.
While this is, without doubt “state of the art” for the moment – and it is indeed clever stuff until you are used to it (about 10 minutes, at which point a 'theme park' presentation would end on a high) - it really is no more than the promise of things to come. Good news for the future as in 3 to 7 years the monkey can see this tech widely used in store displays and maybe even to produce crowds on stage if required; but not until the avatars can react as humans should any performer feel threatened.
For the time being, there is probably a slot at side of the stage into which a coin is fed, a button pressed and away the show goes.
Don’t expect to see the avatars “perform” every number either. A good proportion of the show is animated cartoons and even simple film, all projected on a giant screen which the monkey really wanted to take home. You are basically paying for an IMAX experience, with a little extra 3D-without-glasses experimental technology thrown in. Not a lot for nearly £100 a ticket.
There is a live band and three “backing singers,” the latter a considerable liability to the production and begging for extra creative input. Whoever directed them to stand in a position blocking sightlines of the ABBAtars for many seated in the section monkey was in should take a refresher course in stagecraft.
Worse, when the singers were given opportunities to perform alone, nobody had bothered to check whether they knew how to use the space, work a crowd or follow choreography by looking at what each other was doing. The absolute mess of hand-movements would have embarrassed a Musical Theatre course auditionee, let alone the many talented graduates who appear to have been overlooked for these roles.
The sound in the monkey’s corner was also light on the treble, heavy on a most un-ABBAlike bass which wasn’t required.
Admittedly, the 'laser beam style' effects are quite pretty, 1986 “Captain EO,” yes, but times have moved on a little so that smoke wasn’t required to make the most of them and the colour-range was vast. Quite a few other beams (no Super Trooper to find them) are created by standard lighting, though, and the few props flown in from the ceiling are likewise mundane “John Lewis" Christmas in-Store decorations.
It says a lot that the best thing the monkey saw that afternoon occurred while it was walking back to the station after the show. A teenage boy cycling along the cycle path by the busy main Stratford High Street performed a wheelie for 100 yards with no hands. Front tyre almost 80 degrees in the air off the road. Now, that's skilful entertainment that made it smile for the rest of its walk, a reminder that nothing beats human achievement performed by a real human.
Of course, of course, the music ABBA created is unbeatable, it’s on show here, almost all the greatest hits are heard. Truthfully, though, fledgling technology aside, it is nothing more than ABBA night in a particularly sophisticated discotheque. Fans of the music will love it. Those wishing to see live performances of the numbers, performed with heart and human interaction could do worse than “Mamma Mia!” instead - and save considerable sums money, money, money too.
A few notes on venue seating are available at: www.theatremonkey.com/notes-other-theatres.