Upon entering the Players Theatre to watch an afternoon performance of Tribute, a play based on the works of ABBA by students Ultan Pringle and Robyn Gill, I had very little idea of what to expect. As much as I indulge in the guilty pleasure of the Mamma Mia franchise, it seemed to me that there was nothing else to be done with a theatre performance based around the music of ABBA.
Tribute, as it turned out, was a refreshingly far cry from the upbeat production that Meryl Streep and Amanda Seyfried brought us in the past. Instead, it introduces wonderfully complex characters who capture audiences’ hearts.
The show opens on a soundcheck rehearsal that declines within minutes, reducing the cast to a clamour of squabbling voices. We quickly realise that behind the jazzy flares and upbeat numbers, tensions are high between band and crew members alike. The audience are introduced to the characters and their various loyalties to each other in a series of clever expositional pieces of dialogue. Here, three couples are established among the eight cast members, each with their own closet of skeletons that are gradually unearthed throughout the show.
It’s the blend of writing, directing and performance that makes this play such a poignant production. Pringle and Gill’s artfully crafted dialogue, coupled with emotional monologues – usually punctuated with an acapella solo of some of ABBA’s more sombre songs – make for a heartfelt and potent journey.
This also serves to highlight the talent of each actor. An honorary mention should be given to Grace Doyle Flaherty, who gives a beautifully raw and emotional performance as the sharp-tongued drug addict, April. Her powerful monologue about the terrible fear of feeling alone resonated with me, as I’m sure it did with the rest of the audience.
The ending, while neither particularly happy or sad, is a satisfying, full-circle conclusion. The characters start out the show as one, we are then given a deeper insight into each character as an individual and for better or for worse they finish out as they started – together. The complex intricacies of human relationships unfold against a juxtaposed backdrop of the all-singing, all-dancing, perpetually cheerful ABBA soundtrack.
This takes the audience on an emotionally charged journey that is strengthened by a talented cast and wonderful direction. It’s worlds away from Meryl Streep and Amanda Seyfried, but it’s a new take on ABBA-themed theatre that I’m glad to have witnessed.