ABBA Voyage review – this winner gives its all
A meeting of technological marvel and musical magic comes together
When three thousand fans have arrived at the purpose built, hexagonal arena in east London, they are all united in expecting the impossible – a live reunion performance from ABBA. And yet, as the show begins and the iconic quartet of Swedish superstars rises through the stage fresh from their 1970s heyday, it is almost impossible to believe that they aren't actually there. If their first entrance is met with unbridled euphoria, what follows is a few minutes of dumbfounded deduction in which audience members face the choice to either interrogate what they're seeing with forensic detail or give themselves over to joyous fantasy.
What the audience sees are "ABBA-tars" – not holograms but the result of weeks of motion capture and a team of animators and visual effects artists from Industrial Light and Magic, a division of Lucasfilm who have worked tirelessly to ensure every golden hair, sparkling sequin and keyboard-tapping-fingertip looks real. These are then displayed on enormous, 65-million-pixel screens aided by a peerless lighting design, moving mirrors, a live band and nearly 300 speakers throughout the auditorium. Careful enough study of the stage layout allows canny audience members to ‘glimpse behind the curtain' of the illusion, though the event's producers have made little effort to keep this a secret and need not have, the product speaks, and indeed sings, for itself.
It also helps that this is, for all intents and purposes, a genuine concert, with some stunning animations backed by ABBA discography in between ‘performances' to allow time for costume changes, further enhancing a bewildered suspension of disbelief and providing the opportunity to showcase the band's signature stylings. A crowd eager for nostalgic satisfaction (as evidenced by unenviable merchandise queues and a generous helping of costumed attendees) are catered to on every front – archive footage of the group's 1974 Eurovision Song Contest win is met with a thunderous response and each band member takes turn to speak to the audience, sharing charming anecdotes and recapitulating their successful careers.
The selected setlist is, as expected, a hit parade of the band's shimmering back catalogue with the biggest hits sprinkled intermittently throughout the evening in defiance of any audience member hoping to sit down for more than two consecutive songs. Bearing a large resemblance to the track listing of any Mamma Mia! cast recording, there are some pleasant surprises including Frida's deeply poignant performance of "When All is Said and Done" and the less shocking feature of the band's two newest songs: "I Still Have Faith in You" and "Don't Shut Me Down".
Though anyone awaiting "Take a Chance on Me", "Money Money Money" or "Super Trouper" will be left disappointed, the biggest reactions are of course reserved for "Waterloo", "Dancing Queen" and Agnetha's powerful vocal on an encore performance of "The Winner Takes It All". The fact that audiences already begin to rise from their seats in eagerness to dance for the first time to the very much not up-tempo "Chiquitita" is really saying something.
As well as a compelling concert in its own right, ABBA Voyage is a feat of technological excellence so effective in its deceit that it will surely pave the way for likeminded productions. Not only can we expect a global tour of this concert itself, but similar experiences created for other iconic artists looking to satisfy years of fans (and generate the resulting income from ticket sales) in return for giving a few months of private performances.
At the end of an evening of high camp, everyone is thoroughly entertained, deeply moved and spellbindingly convinced by this dance and jive down memory lane and leave the venue on a stratospheric, music-induced high, confident that they've had the time of their lives and, beyond anything else, thankful for the music.