Writer: Jerome Lawrence and Robert E Lee (book) and Jerry Herman (music and lyrics)
Director and choreographer: Nick Winston
Reviewer: Dave Cunningham
Hope Mill has earned a reputation for producing high-quality shows. However, the theatre has exceeded its own high standards with a blissfully intoxicating Mame. The title song is so famous it is easy to think you have already seen the musical. It is surprising, therefore, to note this is the first revival for 50 years.
Authors Jerome Lawrence and Robert E Lee chronicle the misadventures of free spirit Mame (Tracie Bennett) as she stumbles through the great depression, enters an unlikely marriage and embarks on an endless honeymoon. Even when she adopts Patrick (a very impressive Lochlan White; maintaining a convincing American accent and hitting the notes) the son of her late brother; Mame’s bohemian lifestyle continues uninterrupted. Mame raises Patrick to share her liberal view of the world and is horrified when, upon reaching adulthood (Chase Brown is the adult Patrick) he is determined to marry into a narrow-minded family of bigots. Mame sets out to resolve the problem in her own contrary style.
Jerry Herman’s score is not subtle –one massive showstopper follows another. It is exciting stuff but risks becoming numbingly familiar. Director Nick Winston both celebrates and challenges the bombast. The understated opening has the cast skilfully dancing around the stage in stylised poses to suggest a bustling metropolis. Just as it seems the tone of the musical is going to settle down as intimate and restrained Philip Whitcom’s superb set unfolds to reveal the full cast in raucous party mood and Tracie Bennett posing on a stylish spiral staircase blasting away on a trumpet. It is very much a case of starting with a climax before going even further.
Winston’s handling of the material is masterly. The famous title song that closes Act One begins in a hushed manner before developing into a full-on massive song and dance piece.
Whitcom’s ravishing costumes- particularly the hunt scene – provide the glitz and glamour expected of musicals. However, the show does not stray too far from reality into pure fantasy. The choreography ensures credibility by utilising many of the dance styles from the period in which the play is set. The show does not shy away from the consequences of living a free lifestyle – Jessie May as Mame’s secretary/nanny- shows the effect of following her employer’s advice by ending up a ‘bachelor mother’.
The cast is exceptional; fully aware the characters inhabit a fantasy world but refusing to descend into caricature. Tim Flavin, as Mame’s husband, has only a limited time in the musical but scorches the stage with old-world courteous charm and understated masculinity. The mixture of cynicism and dignity displayed by Harriet Thorpe makes the permanently tipsy Vera hilarious rather than clichéd.
Tracie Bennett dominates the show- only leaving the stage briefly for costume changes. Her version of Mame is a force of nature and, although vulnerable – hurt by Patrick’s disregard of her principles – always determined to keep going. Bennett has a superb voice and the display of her comic talents – perfect delivery of great lines and inspired facial reactions –leaves the audience in hysterics.
Mame is a non-stop party that leaves the audience breathless but delighted and is a perfect way of celebrating the fourth anniversary of Hope Mill. Audiences should rush to see the show- it might be 50 years before there is another chance.
Runs until 9 November 2019