For the first time in fifty years, the musical Mame returns to the UK, at the Hope Mill Theatre, directed by Nick Winston. The musical was a hit in the 1960s, originally starring Angela Lansbury.
Stepping into her shoes this time is the wonderful Tracie Bennett as the titular character. Bennett has been nominated for 5 Olivier Awards, winning twice, and has even been nominated for a Tony. She stole the show with her charisma and comic presence.
The musical leads us through New York in the Prohibition Era and the Great Depression. It follows an orphan boy named Patrick, who is sent to live with his last remaining relative, his bohemian aunt, Mame, who declares to him: “Life’s a banquet and most poor sons-of-bitches are starving to death.”
Although disapproved of by the trustees of Patrick’s late father’s estate, Mame is incredibly loving to her nephew and progressive by our modern standards: in her group of artist friends, we see several same-gender couples; she proclaims sexual liberation for women, and later vows to open a home to support single mothers.
This was my first visit to the Hope Mill Theatre, and I was incredibly impressed with the venue itself. On arrival, I was led into a waiting room befitted to look like a Speakeasy with jazzy, acoustic covers of hit songs and impressive cocktails like those the women in the show might drink.
One of my favourite aspects of the show was the set-design. The floor and backdrop were decorated with a beautiful zig-zag pattern which reminded me of the advertising for 2012’s The Great Gatsby. To change the scenes, doors would slide across the stage. This was especially impressive at the start of Act 2 when the young Patrick (played by Harry Cross in this performance) was writing a letter to Mame. A door quickly cut in front of him, and when it was gone, a new actor (Chase Brown) was sitting in the exact same spot, playing an older Patrick to illustrate the passing of time. I am still baffled by how this stage effect was achieved.
The stage itself was very narrow in width, but this did not at all lower the quality of the production. Throughout, it was filled with lively dancing from the amazing chorus, choreographed again by Winston.
The highlight of the show was when Mame was cast to play the moon in her best friend Vera’s (Harriet Thorpe) Broadway show. When Vera had finished singing, the back of the stage opened to a drunken Mame clinging onto a crescent moon that was hanging from the ceiling. When she was finally sitting comfortably on the moon, she proceeded to forget all of her lines in the play-within-the-play, all to raucous laughter from the audience.
Aside from Bennett, the standout performance in the production was Harry Cross as Young Patrick. He carried much of the show, a daunting task for such a young actor, and had an astounding, adorable singing voice. I expect he will go far in the world of theatre.
Other than some outdated language, Mame translates well into the twenty first century. Hope Mill Theatre has prepared an enjoyable evening. Mame is a show that features many platonic relationships between women – something that is rare in musicals – and also emphasises the comedic abilities of actresses. The only possible flaw was the acoustics; it often became difficult to understand what the performers were singing over the music from the magnificent live band.
Mame is running at the Hope Mill Theatre until 9th November.