Royal & Durngate Theatre, Northampton – until Saturday 11 January 2020
Reviewed by Boo Wakefield
What a delight this is! Last seen on UK stages 50 years ago, this new production of Mame returns curtesy of Nick Winston, Director and Choreographer with music and lyrics by Jerry Herman, all based on the book by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E Lee.
Tracie Bennett excels as Mame, a social butterfly in the late 1920s New York, who seems to have as much fun playing her character as Mame has on stage. The plot is simple: Mame becomes the guardian to her 10 year old nephew, Patrick (tonight played by Lochlan White) who has, until now, been brought up traditionally. Thrust into the protagonist’s world of excess and parties, their relationship blossoms and it is this story line that carries through this musical. Mame’s rather frantic and spontaneous way of raising Patrick does not ride well with Dwight Babcock (Hugh Osborne), Patrick’s legal guardian, who wants him to return to a more traditional schooling. Mame loses everything in the Wall Street Crash of 1929 and has disastrous and hilarious attempts to find a job. She marries Beauregard, who she meets on one of these fateful jobs, and takes a two-year honeymoon during which time Babcock gets his way and Patrick attends a boarding school. And this is just in ActI! Act 2 enables us to see how Patrick grows into a young man whose attempts to find love leaves his aunt in disapproval, causing her to manipulate Patrick into seeing sense.
Harriet Thorpe plays Vera, Mame’s “bosom pal”, whose brilliantly sharp-tongued comebacks mirrored Mame’s beautifully and left you wanting to see more from this relationship. Jessie May stood out as the awkward nanny (Agnes), whose comical timing and extraordinary facial expressions were priceless.
The art deco set, designed by Philip Whitcomb, is somewhat chunky and at times clunky but still enabled the show to move a pace with one scene seamlessly moving into the next. To achieve the feel of a full West End show on a somewhat compact stage is quite a feat especially given that the seven-piece band, led by Jason Carr, was at the back of the stage. From start to finish, the whole ensemble worked together to produce some slick toe-tapping numbers with the “Fox Hunt” and “Mame” numbers standing out, although “My Best Girl” was sung brilliantly by both White and his older Patrick, Chase Brown.
But for me, Tracie Bennett stole the show with her heartfelt solo “If He Walked Into My Life”. Throughout, Bennett portrays Mame as a ditzy, fly-by-night, energetic and charismatic lady but then is able to show her passionate, heartbroken but determined side through this impressive performance which was truly breath taking.
This production left me wondering why it hasn’t been revived before now. Mame should go to the West End and be given a stage big enough to allow it to stretch its wings. A wonderful treat for the New Year.