21 October, MTG Century Theatre, HBAF18 By Michael Hawksworth
At the close of this, his 171st performance of M.A.M.I.L. (Middle Aged Man in Lycra), Mark Hadlow, a thespian trooper to the core, thanked the audience very sincerely for coming out from behind our TVs and supporting live performance. His bugbear, he confided, with real passion, was, specifically, ‘reality TV’ of all stripes – “No! I don’t want to know how to cook a fucking aubergine!”- a genre of entertainment that exploits its ‘casts’ and infantilises its audiences. He’s for an art that’s all about good old scriptwriting, drama, performance, “Reality TV is destroying these things!”
Yeah, I feel his pain, particularly after an incredibly well drilled 100 minutes in which he mobilised, with impressive acting agility, a small host of characters on a custom-made stage.
Hadlow is a really good physical actor, great at rapidly switching between the various personalities of the lycra-clad amateur cycling group that his play’s central protagonist, 52-year-old J.A.F.A. property developer, Brian Cook joins following a Lehman-like financial disaster. The amiable peloton includes ‘Wayne’ a down-to-earth old kiwi joker with an amusingly bandy-legged way of riding his bike, ‘Seamus’ the “feck-off” Irishman, and ‘Harry’ the very Indian, er, Punjabi. Other key characters include a German Nazi cum psychoanalyst cum Herr urologist; an Italian cyclist mentor/alter ego; a flippantly greedy South African business associate; Tom Jones as an angel and, somehow quite naturally, Brian’s penis. All but this last give Hadlow a chance to exercise a flair for accents, though they contribute precious little apart from broad character definition and what we might call colour to the story’s central concerns.
Those concerns could be summarised as –
- Self- obsessed moneybags learns the true value of community.
- Middle aged man must reprioritise and put love first.
Brian’s reawakening love for his estranged wife is of course an important thread, but it’s ultimately a slender one, because she just never really makes an appearance, so to speak, doomed to be forever unheard on the other end of the phone. No the real love story here is the one between Brian and his penis. It’s a real emotional rollercoaster of despair, anger, recriminations, vulnerability, and ultimately tenderness as the pair weather a hellish proctologist exam from Herr Doktor, and survive the trauma of a lost testicle to finally reunite in a successful wank. In fact Brian’s penis has the roundedness of character that we might wish for in some of the others. Poor ‘Harry’. To be Indian here is to reliably invoke the Karma Sutra at the first mention of sex, and to order a chai-latte, of course, at the first stop. To be German is to click one’s heels, to be Italian is to sing opera.
MAMIL is frequently funny though, but it shouldn’t kid itself that its much more than a series of well-performed but familiar gags.
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