REVERSE gender Abba came to The Oxford Playhouse with a delightful story of two middle aged men – one gay and one ‘almost’ out – who reconnect 30 years after their schooldays (and the traumatising experience of performing Abba songs at a sixth form assembly).

Ian Hallard has written an excellent new play, The Way Old Friends Do, that is both sweet and funny.

The title refers to a lesser-known Abba song from 1980, which probably only hardcore fans would remember.

Hallard is clearly one of those, as is Peter, the character he plays.

The story charts Peter and his friend Edward’s journey from reunion to the formation of an all drag Abba act, and turbulent life on the road with their quirky band.

The ups and downs of their relationship is the heart of the show and both Hallard and James Bradshaw, who plays Edward, give hilarious and touching performances. Bradshaw is known to audience members – particularly in Oxford – as pathologist Dr Max DeBryn in the ITV series Endeavour, the prequel series to Inspector Morse.

He has a splendidly waspish delivery and is not loathe to lavish on the camp delivery when required.

In addition to these two very strong central performances, one of the great aspects of the show is its ensemble nature.

The other cast members do full justice to their eccentric characters. All have interesting backstories, and funny lines have been generously distributed to each. Everyone gets a chance to shine in this show.

On the night I attended Sarah Crowe was unable to perform, but understudy Tariyé Peterside stepped up to the mark very well as Mrs Cambell – one of the two females drafted in as the male members of the band.

Manning the keyboard as ‘Benny’ alongside Peter and Edward’s Agnetha and Frida, with nervy babbly character Jodie taking on Bjorn (a chirpy Rose Shalloo), her facial hair was hilarious.

To the delight of the audience this show has even more cross dressing than a Shakespeare comedy – and Hallard is a knockout dressed up as Agnetha!

With classy production values, this show looks very good and is expertly put together.

The costumes are properly fab, and the design team have been spot on conjuring up the period feel in all the settings.

Comical voiceovers from Miriam Morgoyles and the late, great Paul O’Grady are a lovely extra bonus.

The assured direction from League of Gentleman and Sherlock co-creator Mark Gatiss brings all these quality ingredients together perfectly with the performances, clearly bringing out the nuances of the ‘isn’t life funny, but also sad sometimes’ motif that runs through the story.

The Way Old Friends Do is a story told with panache and a lot of heart.

Everyone in the audience seemed to share the feelgood glow and they cheered the show to the rafters at the curtain call.

Quite a lot of us were humming our favourite Abba tunes as we headed out into Beaumont Street feeling very pleasantly jolly.