Review: Club Mex (Hope Mill Theatre)
An immersive club-infused musical falls flat in Manchester
It would not be crass to state that at times, Club Mex feels like a theatrical interpretation of the TV series Sun, Sex and Suspicious Parents, just without the parents; giving a strong idea of what the musical is primarily concerned with.
The story follows the adventures of three best friends Mel, Tiff and Lou on holiday in Cancún, Mexico. The trio are on a hen-do to celebrate Mel's impending marriage to Graham "Gashmeister" Gasher, a character just as vile as his name would suggest, embodying the type of behaviour one might expect from a Geordie Shore-Ibiza Weekender lovechild. Over the hour and a half running time, holiday flings develop, old passions are rediscovered and a series of unpleasant truths come to light – it does not require much work to guess which character is behind the latter.
To Club Mex's credit, the set design deserves recognition for what is an innovative way to utilise Hope Mill's space. The women's hotel bedroom is built into one side of the theatre which is linked to a DJ booth on the opposite side by raised platforms. The podiums become especially prominent during the musical's clubbing scenes – strobe lighting and pounding music strongly evoke the type of atmosphere one might find in any real nightclub only a mile away in Manchester's city centre.
Furthermore, it must be said that the production's use of the audience contributes massively towards Club Mex's promise of "immersive nightclub theatre". Playgoers are initially shepherded into the standing theatre by neon flight attendants preparing a journey to Mexico, setting the tone for the musical's audience participation. As the cast use vodka shots to lure willing playgoers to dance on the set's platforms, one does feel a heightened sense of realism. The musical works best in these moments, when action occurs amidst the audience itself. At the production's emotional climax, having to scan the crowd to work out where Mel and her friends are considerably strengthens the sensation of standing in a nightclub.
Unfortunately however, these are about the only positives one can draw from Club Mex. The plot itself reads like a botched version of an Inbetweeners movie script as repeated jokes, not even funny to begin with, become extremely tiring and hackneyed by the close. Virtually all of the characters represent clichés of one kind or another, from one creepy foreign club rep to another who fears commitment due to his parents' divorce (spoiler alert!).
If the musical's soundtrack was an attempt to ridicule the EDM culture it portrays, then one might have been able to forgive the music but the issue with this production is that the songs felt more like a celebration than a parody. Subjection to the same indistinguishable tracks for ninety minutes was painful and it was a relief at the end when the theatre doors opened and solace could be sought away from Club Mex's sound system.
Ultimately, Club Mex is an interesting concept with a great deal of potential. It is just a shame that this production is so poorly executed.