Eileen Wise goes back to a fantastic future with ABBA Voyage and a luxurious stay at modern The Stratford Hotel.
What a journey! It’s taken more than five years to produce but, honestly, it’s worth it. ABBA Voyage – the 90-minute musical spectacle that features virtual representations – so-called Abbatars – of the Swedish pop super-band from their heyday, lives up to the hype, and how. It’s a visually gorgeous, technological wonder and superb entertainment.
From start to finish the 3,000 plus people in the purpose-built stadium are transported into both another world and one that they knew or know very well. ABBA has provided the soundtracks to so many of life’s experiences both for the generation that was in their teens and twenties when ABBA burst on the scene and those that discovered the band later through the Mamma Mia stage play and the films.
It was surprising then that the opening songs were a couple of lesser-known tunes but it wasn’t long before the hits start coming: ‘SOS’ blended into ‘Knowing You, Knowing Me’ and there probably wasn’t a person in the place who wasn’t singing along, including my sister Deborah and me!
It takes less than a minute before you stop questioning if the four people you see on the stage are real. They appear life-size at a distance and then magnified on the large, high-definition screens flanking the stage. There’s also a live 10-piece band and back-up singers who give an authentic performance edge to the technological wizardry that brings us the Bjorn Ulvaeus, Agnetha Faltskog, Anni-Frid Lyngstad and Benny Andersson of the 1970s and 80s in all their youthful glory.
The ABBAtars wear the same flashy costumes of that era but here updated by Dolce & Gabbana. And they execute the same dance moves, perhaps a little more slickly than their real selves used to. You can make that call because during the song that made them world famous – Waterloo – the winner of the 1974 Eurovision Song Contest, we are treated to a video montage from the past. Anni-Frid’s bright blue knickerbockers once again astound.
ABBA Voyage : History in the Making
The story of ABBA Voyage started in 2017 when Benny Andersson floated the idea of a virtual reunion of the group using digital avatars. After persuading the ABBA women to come back into the studio, the real work began. After a lot of experimentation, it was George Lucas’ special effects company Industrial Light & Magic (the team that produced Star Wars) that eventually brought Andersson’s vision to life. Using motion capture technology and specially designed suits, about 160 cameras were used to film the 22-song set. The choreography is based on real movements, but the team also used younger body doubles.
To show off this work to its fullest, the arena has 291 speakers, producing 870,000 watts of audio amplification throughout the concert and over 500 moving lights mapped to 30,000 points in the arena helping create an immersive live concert. No one is saying how much the creation cost to produce but given it can be reproduced anywhere it’s likely that ABBA Voyage will pop up in capitals around the world and have perhaps as long a life as the band itself.
The result is a stunning show of music and movement, interspersed with what sounds like spontaneous chat from the ABBAtars as they introduce songs. There’s also a videogame-like questing sequence that plays out on big screens in the round, which to be truthful, is not as engrossing as the group singing the songs but it does give you time to catch your breath. By the time the ABBAtars launch into the finale of ‘Dancing Queen’ followed by ‘Thank You for the Music’, everyone is on their feet singing and dancing along. In fact, the space by the stage is for standing or dancing only and it like the rest of the arena was packed.
After an encore of ‘The Winner Takes It All’ and a brief on-stage appearance of ABBA as they look today (also virtually created), the joyously happy crowd, us included, spilled out onto the outskirts of the Olympic Park in Stratford, London.
A Night at The Stratford Hotel
We stayed the night at The Stratford Hotel, a 15-minute stroll across the Olympic Park next to the Westfield’s Shopping Centre and around the corner from the famous home of the 2012 Olympics. Most of the construction in this part of Stratford is new, including the Stratford, which appropriately has Nordic designed interiors by Space Copenhagen.
Our room was spacious, with large windows with views out across the city. It was decorated using pastel tones and natural timbers which gave it a very restful feeling. The well-fitted bathrooms are made of stone and have huge bathtubs and refreshing power showers.
This is the perfect place to stay if you want some comfort and luxury before and after the concert. And if you fancy a bit of shopping there’s the Westfield on your doorstep packed with all big brands and a collection of restaurants too. A bit further afield is the Olympic Stadium (now home to West Ham FC) and across the way there’s the Anish Kapoor Arcelor Mittal Orbit sculpture with its red twisted steel tower and the wavy whoosh of the Aquatic Centre designed by Zaha Hadid.
The Stratford has got into the whole ABBA experience and offers ABBA packages. We had dinner in Kitchen E20 in the lobby area. There’s an a la carte menu but we stuck to the ABBA special set menu, not surprisingly with a Scandi theme. Gravlax and Swedish potatoes feature, plus cod and crayfish. It’s £15 for a starter, main and salad and £22 if you add in dessert and a glass of wine or coffee. The serving staff are incredibly helpful and pleasant.
At the weekends there is even an ABBA Disco Brunch and the party can continue late into the night in the hotel’s attractive Mezzanine for those people who have not already had enough dancing. It really is a Dancing Queen’s delight!
ABBA Voyage Tickets
Is now booking until 28 May 2023 with more dates to be released soon. For all information and for ABBA Voyage Tickets click here.
The Stratford Hotel Special Offer Abba Stays
Main image credit John Perrson.