Last Updated on January 19, 2020 by Fiona Maclean
A musical journey into the phenomenon that is ABBA.
An incredible 3.5 million people tried to buy tickets to see ABBA in concert in London in 1977. That was more than twice the city’s population at the time. I can only imagine how many more would apply now if the group did make a comeback, but in the meantime, a visit to the O2 provides an opportunity for fans to immerse themselves in the world of ABBA.
The recently opened ABBA: Super Troupers The Exhibition brings together a huge collection of artefacts spanning personal photos, instruments, costumes and more, many of which have never been seen before in the United Kingdom. Curated by former artistic director of the Southbank Centre Jude Kelly CBE, with the blessing of Agnetha Fältskog, Björn Ulvaeus, Benny Andersson and Anni-Frid (“Frida”) Lyngstad, it also includes theatrical stagings, interactive elements and lots of music.
The first room transports you straight back to 1974, the year that ABBA won the Eurovision Song Contest and topped the UK charts with “Waterloo”. My friend and I were transfixed by the bank of television screens showing a well-chosen array of film clips covering everything from The Goodies to the downfall of President Nixon, the three-day week to the Osmonds being accosted by their screaming fans.
The next room takes you further back in time to a 1960s Swedish “folkpark” to learn all about the early lives and musical careers of Agnetha, Björn, Benny and Frida. The audio guide included in the entry fee comes into its own here, with selections including pre-ABBA music and spoken word commentary telling the musicians’ stories. Among the numerous artefacts on show are Björn’s school report, solo album covers and photos including a 13-year-old Frida in her “beatnik” phase.
Each of the band’s eight studio albums gets a themed display of its own. The Ring Ring room, for example, is filled with old BT dial phones offering a choice of audio clips to call up such as album tracks, stories about the making of the record and current affairs in 1973, as well as contemporary music from other artists. Other album-related highlights take in replicas of the helicopter that features on the cover of Arrival and the iconic white Super Trouper costumes.
Among the many theatrical elements is a recreation of the 1974 Eurovision Song Contest stage at the Brighton Dome. Here you can take a seat and relive ABBA’s performance and victory on a big screen alongside a full-sized replica of the scoreboard. We were slightly embarrassed to learn that the UK had awarded “Waterloo” “nul points”.
There are plenty of experiential opportunities on offer too. My friend and I decided to test our ABBA knowledge on the video quiz and were feeling pretty confident as we’d watched the people in front of us scoring 10 out of 10. It was not as easy as they made it look, though, and we only managed five correct answers, stymied by some impossible questions about solo album tracks. We also had fun trying out sound mixing ABBA’s songs on another interactive exhibit, the Tretow Mix Challenge.
One of the highlights – and for me, the most touching exhibit – is the recreation of Andrew Boardman’s Manchester living room. The self-confessed ABBA superfan has been ardently collecting memorabilia for 40 odd years since first seeing the band live in concert at the age of 16 and his collection is a great tribute to his idols.
This is a big exhibition and you will probably need the recommended 90 minutes to take in everything. If you were alive in the 1970s you’ll emerge having been on a fun trip down memory lane, as well as gaining lots of new insights into the phenomenon that is ABBA.
There is the chance to take advantage of two ABBA-themed outings at the O2 at the moment. The exhibition is just seconds away from the new immersive theatrical and dining experience, Mamma Mia! The Party which we reviewed a few months ago.
The exhibition runs until Monday 31 August 2020 at The O2, Peninsula Square, London, SE10 ODX
Adult £27 Adult Return £59 (up to a maximum of 4 visits) Child £13.50 Family Ticket £65 Concession £22 Children under 16 must be accompanied by an adult
Tickets available from the AbbaSuperTrouper website, from Eventim or by calling 08442 491 000*
*Fees apply. Calls cost up to 7p per minute, plus your phone company’s access charge.
OPENING TIMES Mon – Wed 10.00 until 19.30 (last ticket 18.00) Thu – Fri 10.00 until 20.30 (last ticket 19.00) Sat – Sun 09.30 until 19.30 (last ticket 18.00) Closed 25th December and 1st Jan