A bit like having an ABBA-themed psychotic break, this immersive new guided exhibition at the Southbank Centre has you crawling through a bookcase in a typical 1970s British living room, only to arrive inside the exact Brighton hotel suite where the band celebrated their Eurovision win, before slipping through an unassuming wardrobe and ending up in the woods in Sweden where the fledgling foursome first found their sound. It makes your head spin, all this ABBA, with each of the nine rooms littered with memorabilia, costumes, sheet music and artifacts from the archives.
It’s simultaneously too much and not enough as you teleport around meticulous recreations of the chart-topping mega-sensation’s historic venues, like the ghost of ABBA past, cursed only to observe and powerless to change anything (although you can play with the sliders in the recreation of their Stockholm recording studios).
The rooms are perfectly authentic, right down to the books on the shelves and the retro cereal in the kitchen, the newspapers on the coffee table and the lipstick stained champagne glass by the bed. You’re led by an eager guide whose lightly informative commentary is constantly interrupted by the disembodied voice of Jarvis Cocker, who clumsily works ABBA lyrics into each and every dry introduction.
Cuckoo calls and flushing toilets cue the guide up to move to next room, something he does with an endearing pantomime flourish. “It sounds like somebody’s using the loo,” he says, as we examine the ABBA paraphernalia embedded inside the sinks of the 80s disco bathroom we weren’t standing in five seconds ago. “Best give them some privacy! Shall we go to the dance floor ladies and gentlemen?”
It’s cheesy as hell, but sort of perfect. Though one of the greatest bands ever, ABBA is not cool, and neither does this exhibition try to be. Half theme-park ride, half ABBA cheese dream, it’s a tour that will leave you – as Jarvis might say – feeling thankful for the music indeed.
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