This autumn, the Hope Mill Theatre are taking on their biggest challenge yet – the 1966 musical Mame.
It’s an iconic production that hasn’t been performed since 1969 about a woman named Mame Dennis, a party-giver and society girl who lives to entertain her group of friends. I spoke to Harriet Thorpe who is playing Vera, a dear friend of Mame’s, who Harriet describes as a “theatrical, egocentric, blissful part to play.”
When Mame’s nephew arrives on her doorstep, she takes him in. “Suddenly she has purpose in her life that is more than parties, it is about a different kind of love and providing. It isn’t just about giving everyone a wonderful time, it is about showing this young person the world,” Harriet explained.
“As it progresses the young boy grows up and has his own son, by the end of the story she is there with her grand-nephew about to take on the same task – it is a beautiful journey.”
“I love Vera, with any character that I play they are always a challenge. What I love is that I never really play anyone remotely normal, they’re always fairly psychotic or potty,” Harriet said. “If I’m doing Shakespeare, I am either some old slag or an evil queen. I love playing people who are funny or difficult, I am a character actor. I am always going to play the crazies – thank god for that.
“What I love the most is that at the core of Vera is her care for her friends. What is the point if we don’t have friends and share things that we have that are good in life – seriously what is the point?”
Set during the 20s, 30s and 40s, it’s a show that spans multiple eras and demonstrates the progression of our world. “You’re dealing with all sorts of people’s grand opinions on life and opinions of women. What is great about this show is that it’s the strong women that hold it all together and make the right choices,” Harriet explained. “During the depression of the 30s they are the ones that come through and ultimately are strong. Which is exactly what women are.”
“The Hope Mill Theatre is a courageous, creative space with amazing choices,” Harriet said. “Mame will be performed in a wonderful, intimate space which gives you an immediacy. It is normally a huge grand musical but the story is bigger than anything and it’s the story that matters because it’s the story that people relate to.”
Gushing about the cast and creatives working on this show, it feels like it is going to be something very special. “Tracie Bennett obviously is an iconic, award-winning, extraordinary performer with such diversity and ability,” she said. The rehearsal process has been really wonderful and collaborative.”
Harriet emphasised that what makes this show so important is that it is about human nature. “You look at any play, like Shakespeare or musical like Les Mis, the story is what is important. That is because we have identification with human nature throughout history. It could be anything – even a Greek tragedy, it is the mistakes and fuck-ups that humans make all the time. That is what has a resonance for people, the story’s human nature doesn’t change,” Harriet said.
“We have to keep learning the same crap all the time because endlessly people make mistakes, that is human nature. That is why theatre and entertainment is so important, because it reflects our culture, the mistakes, the emptiness, the loneliness, the tragedies, the joy, the happiness, the love – that is what it is about.
“The show has so much poignancy, but will also be an amazing night out. It is really funny, it reflects friendships, relationships, hopes, dreams, mistakes, all of that. It is a lovely, funny, moving show.”
Mame opens at the Hope Mill Theatre on Saturday 28th of September, tickets and information can be found on their website.
Photo credit // Pamela Raith