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Greenwich Peninsula: How Björn from ABBA welcomes Antony from Blue to Mamma Mia! The Party at The O2

Ulvaeus and Costa talk music, Greek heritage and performance as a new Nikos arrives at the venue

Antony Costa and Björn Ulvaeus at Mamma Mia! The Party in The O2

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Björn Ulvaeus is in a jovial, reflective mood – surprising, perhaps, for a global megastar who’s already spent much of his morning being interviewed by a merry-go-round of journalists at The O2 before I get to him.

He’s at the Greenwich Peninsula venue to mark the arrival of Antony Costa – best known as one quarter of boy band Blue, who has just joined the cast of Mamma Mia! The Party, which has been playing in its own dedicated space within the giant tent since 2019. 

There’s a feeling of serendipity about the whole thing.

ABBA – namely Björn, Benny Andersson, Agnetha Fältskog and Anni-Frid Lyngstad – reportedly gave their first impromptu performance on a beach while on holiday in Cyprus.

Antony has Greek Cypriot heritage and is the first person in the London run directly connected with the culture to take on the role of taverna owner Nikos, whose establishment is the setting for the immersive show.

Antony performing in the show

Sat in the vast space, completely transformed into a restaurant on Skopelos with hundreds of seats, it’s impossible not to wonder what moments of fresh serendipity might take place under the lights as Antony and co dance, sing and entertain the expectant crowds.

Who might be inspired? What might they do?

“Everything with ABBA was so organic, it happened by chance,” said Björn.

“Benny and I happened to meet each other, then we happened to meet those ladies and they happened to be singers.

“They could easily have been something else.

“We never thought about forming a group until two or three years into our relationships – we were just two couples.

“Then, again by chance, Agnetha is a true soprano, and Frida is a mezzo – it’s when she strives to get up to where Agnetha is and they sing in unison, there’s a strange kind of metallic, longing sound which you can hear from miles away.

“That is the sound of ABBA. It has a quality that, when the song is a bit sad, in a minor key and the lyrics are dark, the voices seem to be jubilant, so happy and sad at the same time.

Performers sing and dance among the audience

“It’s very Nordic and it was probably very exotic to the rest of the world.

“Then, at the same time, Benny and I were determined to become very good songwriters and to record our music as well as we could. 

“ABBA was the most wonderful vehicle to communicate those songs though, so it was a combination of all of those things that led to our success.”

One of the best-selling groups in the history of popular music, next came Mamma Mia! the jukebox musical, a film adaptation – then a second – each adding fresh waves of popularity and further cementing the presence of hits such as Dancing Queen, Super Trouper, The Winner Takes It All and Waterloo in the public consciousness.

Mamma Mia! The Party, however is different.

Conceived after a visit to Skopelos to see the film set, Björn set about creating an immersive experience that would serve as a sequel to the movies – initially opening in Stockholm – before bringing the show to London.

The show takes place in a giant Greek taverna

“That’s the thing about this – it’s so real,” he said.

“It’s a real restaurant. The audience are eating, it has an owner, he’s called Nikos and the family are working here.

“The movies are fiction, but this is real and that’s what people feel when they come.

“People would stand up, sing and dance at the end of the stage musical and I wondered how we could make this immersive.

“It feels great because you can see people enjoying the music, singing all the words and it’s real.”  

Antony, who hails from Barnet in north London, said: “The idea is that people leave their troubles at the door, they just enjoy the vibe, the music and the story.

“Nikos and his wife Kate (Gemma Maclean) have had this idea that they will make some money off the back of the movies.

“ABBA is popular, so they decide to use the songs.

Performances include a Greek meal

“They trade off the taverna as a location and that’s how the story begins. It’s my second immersive show and it’s amazing.

“You have to be in character but you can go up to the tables and ask the guests how their food is.

“They’re always sending their compliments to the chef, they love it.

“My dad’s family are all Greek-Cypriot, so when I lived in Cyprus as a kid, I used to see it all the time – gran peeling the potatoes, dad smoking and cooking the barbecue – and that makes it real.

“I was actually a bit emotional that someone had taken the trouble to write something set in the motherland.

“It really brought me back to living in Cyprus as a kid and going to the taverna with the whole family. 

“I feel very honoured to be performing these songs and to have Björn watching and for him to say: ‘Well done’ – I can die happy. I saw his face light up and that was better than any applause.”

Following the establishment of Mamma Mia! The Party, the eastern half of the capital is busy with the band’s footprint thanks to ABBA Voyage – a holographic concert venue featuring avatars of the four members – that opened in 2022, not far away in Stratford.

Guitarist Luke Higgins performs on a Bouzouki

“London is where all the infrastructure and talent is, so it was a no-brainer to bring the party here in 2019 after Stockholm,” said Björn.

“There’s a huge audience here, all prepared to try something new – an experiment, which this is, in essence.

“From here, we’re going to take it to other places around the world – perhaps New York and Sydney.

“Seeing Antony as Nikos was very special because he gives his own interpretation of the role.

“As the first person to play the role in London who comes from a Greek background, he completely understands who Nikos is and that is great – I loved seeing it.”

Mamma Mia! The Party runs Wednesday to Sunday at 6.30pm with noon matinees at weekends.

Tickets start at £108 off peak with various upgrades available.

You can find out more about Mamma Mia! The Party here.

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- Jon Massey is co-founder and editorial director of Wharf Life and writes about a wide range of subjects in Canary Wharf, Docklands and east London - contact via jon.massey@wharf-life.com
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