Written by Gregory Cooper and performed by Mark Hadlow, MAMIL (middle-aged man in lycra) is a one-man show that revolves around Bryan Cook, a psychopathic property developer who goes bankrupt during the global financial crisis and is forced to face some hard truths about poverty: After being told his wardrobe can’t be worth more than $2,000, he despairs he’s going to have to “live like a student.” He’s also forced to ride the bus for the first time, which he declares with shock and disgust he will never do again. He’s so traumatised by the experience that he buys an expensive bike, despite his proclamation earlier on that grown men shouldn’t ride them. It’s not long before the lycra follows, at which point he has to face his next big challenge: walking through a Parnell café in his new outfit so that he can order a latte.
The intention, I think, is humour. All the real issues Bryan faces – his bankruptcy, the fact that his wife and two children have left him, his testicular cancer – are dealt with swiftly and with little process or pain. Instead, he spends his time onstage with a slew of tired stereotypes that Hadlow’s able to distinguish with ease: an autistic accountant, a racist South African businessman, an Indian dairy owner who attempts to offload expired products to the cycling group, a cussing Irishman, and a German doctor with a fetish for pain. There are laughs the night I go. The laughs are the most disturbing part of the show.
It’s challenging enough making your protagonist unlikeable, but to deny him any moment of vulnerability, development or redemption seems cruel. He’s presented as a caricature of the upper class but any potential humour is denied by refusing to let him learn from the challenges he faces. He’s not concerned about understanding the world: he’s a man who draws on tropes because to understand it any more nuanced a way would compromise his ability to be self-serving. Instead, he remains self-absorbed and unrepentant (when his wife leaves, he cries “Whatever I’ve done, I’ll never do it again”) and the only lesson he learns is that he doesn’t like being lonely: “You could own every house in New Zealand but without someone to share it with, what was the point?”
There are fleeting moments of underlying pathos. In a rare moment of honesty, he muses to the audience that he’s a fifty-year-old man terrified of touching his testicles. He’s frank about his impotence, too, but it’s made a little creepy by him playing the character of his penis with a child’s voice (“why don’t you touch me anymore?” it inquires innocently at one point). MAMIL’s funniest moments are when it subverts your expectations and calls you out on your own prejudices (“You can probably tell I’m not from here,” the Indian dairy owner chirps when we first meet him. “I’m from Papatoetoe.”) but these come too infrequently to redeem an ultimately disappointing and unpleasant show.
MAMIL plays at the Herald Theatre from August 1 - 16
Tickets available from Ticketmaster