Hope Mill Theatre has been home to so many beautiful productions and has become so beloved that it’s difficult to remember a time without it.
This beautiful venue and producing house is celebrating its fourth birthday, so what better way to celebrate in the week the film Judy opened, featuring Rene Zellweger as Garland, than with a Broadway classic featuring West End star Tracie Bennett. She earned rave reviews when she starred in the stage version End of the Rainbow both here and on Broadway.
It’s likely you know Jerry Herman’s work more from Hello Dolly and La Cage Aux Folles because Mame is better known in America. And that’s a real shame, as you have all the ingredients of a classic musical here. And the songs are good as anything Bette Midler delivered as Dolly Levi recently.
Jerome Lawrence and Robert E Lee’s book focuses on an eccentric bohemian who loves to fill her life with good food and the best things in life like plenty of gin. This fabulous life suddenly takes a different turn when there is a knock at the door and a little lad called Patrick is there, calling her Auntie Mame.
Patrick is the son of her late brother, which means this rule-breaking high society gal must become his mom and role model. The scene is now set for comic capers as the two go on a series of adventures, enabling them to forget and ignore the Great Depression, at least for a while.
Nick Winston’s lovely production has everything just right, from Phillip Whitcomb’s gorgeous costumes and expansive set design through to some crazily good choreography which has a balletic feel, never once feeling restricted by the intimacy of the Hope Mill.
Ben Harrison’s sound design is crystal clear, which means that you can delight in the wonderful vocal ability of this entire cast. Everyone is in synch and look as if they are having a ball on a far from Broadway budget, echoing Mame’s outlook on life that “Life is a banquet and most poor sons of bitches are starving to death.”
Harriet Thorpe is a great performer and whenever she sashays onto stage and speaks her sardonic lines, she receives applause. She is a nuanced comedienne but can also belt out a tune when required. Mame is a show of multiple double acts and Thorpe and Bennett are one of them, insulting each other as two best friends who seek solace in their decadent life and each other.
The other dynamic duo is Mame and Patrick. Their relationship is touchingly explored, filled with adventure and naughty words when he is young, and the realisation that other people are not this when he is older. Lochlan White is one of the most natural performers you will see on a stage and his chemistry with Bennett is genuinely moving. They feel like family.
The small ensemble delivers the work of twenty performers and gallop across this expanded stage like thoroughbreds. Their energy is a sight to behold. Jessie May as Agnes Gooch makes a supporting comedy role a much bigger one with her commitment to the piece and comic stooging.
As for Tracie Bennett, there is a real difference between being a celebrity and being a star. Here is someone who makes everything she does as Madame Mame seem completely effortless – her naughty laugh, comic prowess and vivacious vocals.
She is the real deal and every minute watching her do her thing is to be treasured. And to see her and this cast so close, as opposed to paying higher West End prices and barely being able to see them, is quite something.
The orchestra may be small but they play beautifully.
I used to think Hope Mill was Manchester’s Menier Chocolate Theatre. But with this perfect production of Mame they have hit another level.
They bring a big old piece of Broadway pie to Ancoats and it leaves you feeling proud of everything that Joseph Houston, William Whelton and Katy Lipson have achieved in Manchester. The sky’s the limit.
Mame is at Hope Mill Theatre until 9th November.