Words by Simon Button
I have a dream of an ABBA exhibition that’s packed with memorabilia, artefacts, costumes, props, even the vile Agnetha-related keepsake Guy Pearce’s Felicia carries around in the ‘Priscilla’ movie. This is not that exhibition.
Staged at The 02 and offering a double-whammy for those visiting ‘Mamma Mia! The Party’ at the purpose-built taverna opposite, it’s big on context - highlighting what was going on in the UK just before the four Swedes burst on the pop scene, then taking visitors through rooms dedicated to their eight studio albums with giant gatefold sleeves featuring lots of info about each long-player, a thorough audio guide plus interviews with band members, stylists etc.
There’s a nifty touch in the ‘Ring Ring’ room: Loads of brightly-coloured telephones that you pick up to hear song snippets and bits of trivia - including the little-known fact that Neil Sedaka helped translate the title track’s lyrics into English.
Elsewhere there are ‘Voulez-Vous’ glitterballs you can dance under whilst listening to songs from that seminal 1979 disco album and an ‘Arrival’ helicopter that you can pose next to.
But, compared to the exhibition that ran at the Southbank Centre last year, this one is woefully low on meaningful physical objects.
There’s Bjorn’s school report (he got the equivalent of a B-minus for songwriting!), more than 40 gold discs, a battered pair of Benny’s boots and a tour rider (but only the cover page so we don’t know if they made any diva demands).
The rest, though, consists mostly of replicas rather than real things. The ‘Arrival’ helicopter isn’t the actual one featured on the cover, for example, nor are the ‘Super Trouper’ white suits the originals.
There’s an interactive ABBA quiz that is more about Bjorn and Benny’s musicals ‘Chess’ and ‘Kristina’ than the band themselves (though I’m proud to say I got ten out of ten right) and a huge dancefloor on the way out but no bar - and everyone knows there’s nothing better than dancing to ‘Dancing Queen’ with a skinful.
The reconstruction of superfan Andrew Boardman’s Manchester living room - crammed with books, posters, pillows, dolls, mugs, you name it - offers an interesting insight into ABBA mania and you do leave the exhibition knowing a lot more about all those albums and humming all those amazing songs.
Myself, though, I was humming ‘Gimme Gimme Gimme a bit more for my money, money, money’.
ABBA: Super Troupers The Exhibition is at The 02, London, until August 30th. For great deals on tickets and shows click here.