New utopias: Rock. By Simon Frith

Abbacadabra (Lyric Hammersmith) is a seasonal show based on the good idea of using ABBA’s combination of old- fashioned tunes and hi-tech sounds as the basis of a children’s musical pitching pantomime characters and plot into a video game. The show is good to look at (Jenny Tiramani has designed a shimmering forest of silver wire and neon) and performed with gusto by its star cast (Elaine Paige, Phil Daniels, B A Robertson, Fiona Hughes among them). If it sometimes seemed that the worst aspects of ABBA were emphasized (the banal melodies), the best bits dropped (the gleaming harmonies) it was fascinating to watch a warm literal-minded show singer like Elaine Paige take on the cooler ironic conventions of Euro-Pop.

I would have enjoyed the show a lot more, though, if it hadn’t featured as one of its traditional elements a dumb black comic villain. This stereotype gave an unpleasant edge to a friendly occasion, and undercut the show’s claims to with-itness. It certainly makes sense to use a black street gang as a source of threatening imagery, but in a video show, in particular, such images should be up-to-date – Michael Jackson not Step’n Fetchit. Transcribed for ABBA World

The Sunday Times (London) · 18 December 1983 (Page 37)


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