Review: Mame, Hope Mill Theatre

There’s still a reason Mame hasn’t been seen in the UK for 50 years but this lavish Hope Mill Theatre production and a spectacular Tracie Bennett give it a damn good try

“Your special fascination’ll
prove to be inspirational
we think you’re just sensational”

In some ways you have to admire the ambition in reviving a show that hasn’t been seen professionally in the UK for 50 years. In others, you wouldn’t be blamed for blurting ‘what are you thinking’! The ever-adventurous folks at Manchester’s Hope Mill Theatre have done just that with this revival of Mame, hoping to find a glitzy neglected diamond in the rough. (And when oh when will they transfer their lovely take on Little Women to London like so many of their other shows.) 

Director Nick Winston’s wisest decision is to mount it with a lavishly decadent production that you don’t often see on the fringe, especially with the likes of Tracie Bennett (so excellent in Follies recently) heading the cast. Getting to see a performer of the calibre of Bennett, with a voice like that, in such intimacy as this, is a rare treat and even singing a minor Jerry Herman score, is a genuine theatrical thrill.

But there’s no getting away from the fact that Jerome Lawrence and Robert E Lee’s book is frothily inconsquential, too full of silliness to make its pivots into seriousness stick, as we follow the travails of socialite Auntie Mame dealing with having to take on the guardianship of her nephew. Dated attitudes towards the rich and female beauty do battle with something more interesting about friendship and family but I’m not sure they bear too much scrutiny. 

That said, you’re not really thinking about this whilst watching the show. Philip Witcomb’s striking design looks fabulous and Winston fills the space with some cracking choreography for an improbably and impressively large ensemble. And if under-used, there’s strong support from the likes of Harriet Thorpe and Tim Flavin, Jessie May stands out too. Bennett makes it worthwhile but I wouldn’t be hurrying to another revival of this anytime soon.

Running time: 2 hours 45 minutes (with interval)
Photos: Pamela Raith
Mame is booking at the Hope Mill Theatre until 9th November, then tours to touring to Royal & Derngate, Northampton 7th – 11th January 2020 and Salisbury Playhouse 21st – 25th January 2020

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