The lure of lycra

LIFE CYCLE: "It was akin to mateship, guys on a bike without the beer in the pub," says Mark Hadlow about his new play.
LIFE CYCLE: "It was akin to mateship, guys on a bike without the beer in the pub," says Mark Hadlow about his new play.

Mark Hadlow believes middle- aged men in Lycra are the most polarising of breeds, but that most people are related to or have sneered at one. They'll all be able to associate with his new play, MAMIL.

Hadlow himself has been a MAMIL, a Lycra-clad push-biker, and the experience was the catalyst for the play, written by his friend Gregory Cooper, in which Hadlow plays 10 characters, including a bike.

Hadlow, most recently Dori the dwarf in The Hobbit trilogy, has, theatrically, progressed from a SNAG - a sensitive new age guy - to a MAMIL. SNAG was his 1990s solo play, at a younger, more delicate time of his life.

MAMIL finds him at 56, undeniably middle-aged and starring solo in a tailormade play featuring Bryan Cook, a property developer riding financially high on leaky homes but unhappy inside. Not that Hadlow is internally at sea in middle age.

"I'm proud to be 56," he says. "It's a great challenge to be practising a craft that is challenging physically and mentally. It keeps you on a learning curve and if you're not learning all the time you stagnate. You always have to be learning. Maturity brings a lot of good things with it."

Hadlow's brush with MAMILs came in 2011 when he was making a strenuous effort to keep fit for his Hobbit role. A couple of his mates ride in a Wellington peloton - "I like that word" - and, Lycra be damned, he decided to join them, "to see if I liked it, just mates, getting together to ride, four or five of them. Three of them are called Mike.

"They introduced me to a huge, wider world of discussion, on health, business, personal issues, marriage issues, all sorts of political discussions openly aired. It was a wonderful, evocative time, a mobile men's group."

Anyone who said something precious was taken to task, he adds. "It was akin to mateship, guys on a bike without the beer in the pub."

It was also, he says, "extremely healthy. Riding 60 kilometres in a day, your bum becomes pretty tough.

"A lot of people's opinion is how could you ride a bike in Lycra and be normal. They're more than normal.

"I had an idea, riding with these guys, that it would make a great one-man show, the new SNAG. They'd be horrified to be called SNAGs. I thought it would be fun and went to see if Greg would be interested in writing it. He said: 'Oh my god, that sounds fantastic'."

MAMIL opened in Auckland. Hadlow and mates attended the premier in Lycra.

Hadlow, who has been in 130 plays, and in musicals, films, on television, in commercials and doing voice-overs, says he has "never felt so complete as a performer" as in MAMIL - "how the audience reacted, how I was reacting in tune with the audience, completely as one. By the end of it people were standing up clapping and cheering, and so was I."

The moral of MAMIL is, he says: "No matter how good you think you are, you can fall, but you have the ability to build yourself up again, to something better and nicer. I like to think you have a moral code. If you let it slip you've got to climb back out of it.

"Bryan climbs back out of the abyss he creates himself. It is a comedy but a real story."

Hadlow is longing for the Wellington opening.

"I can't wait to get back on the boards on Friday night. I really can't wait. I'm walking on coals. I just can't wait to get back in there. After 35 years as an actor, that's what it's all about, challenge, and a project that satisfies you and people enjoy it."

AFTER the Wellington season, MAMIL will play three nights in Martinborough, where Hadlow lives, in aid of its town hall rebuild. He anticipates taking the play to Taupo at bike-race time in November, performing in other New Zealand centres and provincial towns and, eventually, overseas. "We've had interest from England and Scotland and someone's looking into Australia."

MAMIL is not the only project he has on the go. In his other life, Hadlow, son of a navy chaplain, is a Royal New Zealand Navy reservist, Lieutenant Commander Hadlow, number V21369. Being a trumpet player in the navy band preceded him becoming an actor and he rejoined a few years ago. He's creative director for Operation Neptune, the 2016 celebration of the navy's 75th anniversary.

Balls, receptions, parades, ship- based productions and a collaboration with the Royal New Zealand Ballet are planned.

"The Royal Navy has taken a bit of a back seat to MAMIL," he says, "but it will blow up for 2016. We'll be bringing the navy to New Zealand, there will be so many things happening."

It will mark, he says, "75 years of pride.

"I'm very pleased to wear the uniform. I sang the national anthem at Gallipoli last year, at the dawn service. I've never been so nervous or proud. It was the most extraordinary moment of my life, I think."

-MAMIL is at Prefab Hall, 14 Jessie St, Wellington, tomorrow until September 20.

The Dominion Post