Judith Schrut re-lives those glorious ABBA years at London’s Southbank Centre.
Were you an ABBA fan? Wasn’t everybody?
Take four fabulous-looking Scandinavians in sparkling, figure hugging costumes, add catchy tunes, great hook lines, heart-rending lyrics and easy harmonies just begging you to sing along and, no surprise, you’ve got a winning formula for one of the most successful pop bands of all time.
With this in mind, I super-trouped along to the Southbank Centre for a sneak preview of ABBA: Super Troupers, an immersive new exhibition which takes you on a journey back in musical time to the 1970s, when the Swedish pop phenomenon known as ABBA (that’s Agnetha, Bjorn, Benny and Anni-Frid) ruled the world. There were audible sighs and swoons as a still hunky Bjorn (now 72) opened the show.
I may be naïve, but until that moment I did not know that a Super Trouper was a theatrical spotlight that pings to life, hits a silver disco ball and starts turning, twinkling and glittering to the sound of ABBA songs. Yet somehow, when the music started playing and the glitterball started turning, I knew all the words.
If you were a British teenager uplifted from the bleak early 1970s by the band’s stunning Eurovision triumph, one of around 300 million fans who’ve bought an ABBA record or over 60 million who’ve seen Mamma Mia the Musical, or just have a thing about tight pink jumpsuits, knee-high boots and cardamom spice buns, this is the show for you.
Grim, grey Britain in the early 1970s was a place of power cuts, three-day weeks, three-channel TV, bath sharing and rubbish piled up in the streets due to nationwide strikes. Into this came the 1974 Eurovision Song Contest in Brighton and a happy, hummable winning song called Waterloo. A decade of ABBA number ones, sold out tours, fashion, merchandise and singalongs followed– especially in the UK. Only the Beatles had more consecutive number one albums in Britain, and ABBA’s Greatest Hits is the second biggest-selling album of all time.
ABBA: Super Troupers takes you on an immersive small group tour, led by guides clearly selected for their ABBA devotion, through nine rooms filled with original memorabilia, costumes, equipment and a non-stop soundwall of ABBA hits. You’ll get to chill in the Brighton hotel room (the aptly named Napoleon Suite) where the band celebrated its Eurovision win; view Anni-Frid’s slinky green fox dress, Agnetha’s blue catsuit and crocheted cap, Bjorn’s star-shaped silver guitar and Benny’s groovy white boots; don leather headphones, step up to the mike in the famous Polar recording studio and howl your version of Dancing Queen; hug trees in a Swedish forest Folkpark and enjoy a nostalgic sing-song aboard ABBA’s private jet.
No matter that by 1982 ABBA had split as married couples and as a band, and pop music’s fickle fiefdom had moved on to punk and reggae. ABBA: Super Troupers is proof that the group’s legacy lives on, along with some damn great songs. Don’t miss your chance to sing them all over again.
ABBA: Super Troupers runs until 29 April 2018 at the Southbank Centre, Belvedere Road, London SE1 8XX. Tickets and more at southbankcentre.co.uk.