Clever comedy takes Nelson audience for a ride
MAMIL by Greg Cooper, featuring Mark Hadlow. Theatre Royal Nelson 7-9 June
Mamil: Middle Aged Man in Lycra is a funny and prescient cycling tour de force performed by one of New Zealand's greatest theatre performers. Its content and admission price sits in the bustling peloton of New Zealand's theatre-going public - the middle aged, upper middle class - and from the standing ovation it provoked on opening night in Nelson it's clearly a winner in its class.
Greg Cooper has an extraordinary ability to write plays to order. He knows how to provide the best platform for his long time collaborator Mark Hadlow. Alone on an ingenious set that allows him height, changing room and cycling scenes, Hadlow portrays the fall and rise of Brian Cook, who seemingly loses it all after the recession.
At his lowest ebb, he finds himself joining an impossibly international group of cycling enthusiasts on their regular excursions.
Hadlow draws on his vast cache of voices and caricature to present not only the troubled Brian but also a vast array of other characters. While at times the comedy veers dangerously low-brow (seriously, we need to move on from the Nazi salute) it is mostly very clever, observant stuff that shows New Zealanders at their least, and most, tolerant. We accept the cartoonish nature of the minor characters as they are foils for Brian's story: a genuinely moving arc about learning the value of love amid the chaos and surface distractions of modern life.
After riding a desk for a number of years, Hadlow has come home to the stage. His voice commands us, his energy beguiles us, his agility and love of the game irrepressible. At one point mid-way through the action, Hadlow drops character and the thing grinds to a halt. Only then do we look around and realise how completely he had us under his spell. There are eruptions of shrieking and applause. This guy is as close as New Zealand has to a theatre rock star. He's biking through town for three days. Catch him if you can.