Immersive show at the O2 will have music, memorabilia and a homage to Brighton Dome
It became an instant hit and helped propel four unknown Swedes to superstardom, but the opinion of the British jury at the Eurovision song contest in 1974 was a less enthusiastic nul points.
The British vote proved irrelevant. Everybody else seemed to love the performance by Abba of their song Waterloo, which kicked off a musical journey resulting in eight albums and a legacy that shows no sign of fizzling out.
The highs and lows of that Eurovision evening at the Brighton Dome are to be recreated at the O2 in London as part of a huge exhibition telling the story of Agnetha Fltskog, Bjrn Ulvaeus, Benny Andersson and Anni-Frid Lyngstad. The show will include artefacts, photos, videos, interviews, costumes and private letters, many of them going on display for the first time.
It is a much bigger version of a show at the Southbank Centre staged by its then artistic director, Jude Kelly, to mark the end of a year of Nordic arts and culture. The Abba team loved how seriously we took their story, Kelly said. They asked how would I approach it if it had a much bigger footprint.
While the Southbank show was in a small space and necessarily intimate, the O2 show has 1,300 sq metres (14,000 sq ft) and so can be big and bold, said Kelly. Visitors will be taken through the story of Abba, explored through their albums from Ring Ring in 1973 to The Visitors in 1981. Each will tell a wider story of what was going on around them at the time, culturally and politically.
It will be at times immersive and experiential. So a gloomy 1970s British living room will be created, recalling a time of three-day weeks, power cuts, the Goodies and aliens chuckling hilariously at how primitive earthlings were for peeling, boiling and smashing their potatoes. Visitors will then be able to watch the Eurovision night unfold in a crushed velvet homage to the Brighton Dome interior.
There will also be a Swedish folk park, a kind of socialist Butlins, said Kelly, and a key part of Abbas roots. And there will be a full-size helicopter, replicating the one on the front of the album Arrival, and equipment from the bands Polar studios in Stockholm.
There will be a wealth of personal memorabilia in the show, including Ulvaeuss school report As for manners and orderliness, B minus for music while among the many costumes on display will be the cape worn by Fltskog on the bands Voulez-Vous tour.
Kelly said Abba had always had a close relationship with their fans. Towards the end of the show will be a recreation of the Manchester living room of one superfan, Andrew Boardman, a shrine to all things Abba.
Kelly said all the bands albums were different. Each had a pop voice but also a very specific tone and it comes out of a particular moment in history, she said.
Thats what has always interested me in art anyway: what was going on around them at the time? What was going on around them musically? Politically? How was it that Abba kept this strong, single-minded determination to be the best of what a pop band is?
Whatever people think about Abba and their music, their global popularity is undeniable. Ive been to weddings in Nigeria where they are playing Abba, said Kelly. Ive been to parties in China where they are playing Abba.
With an Abba museum in Stockholm, a theatre production and two movies, the bands profile seems to grow year on year rather than diminish. This month the O2 will play host to Mamma Mia! The Party!, a theatre and dining experience that has been a hit since it opened in Stockholm in 2016. In the space of four hours it promises a spectacular show, a three-course dinner, and a 1970s Abba disco.
Abba: Super Troupers the Exhibition is at the O2 from 6 December.