Club Mex – Hope Mill Theatre

Hope Mill Theatre is one of the most exciting venues to watch a show in Manchester. Since they opened in 2015, they have been at the forefront of presenting exciting, innovative, contemporary theatre. Their first production of 2019 is certainly no different. Marketed as ‘immersive nightclub theatre’, Club Mex is a unique concept that combines clubbing with a new musical. It promises to be a completely new experience to theatre goers and clubbers alike.

Club rep Antonio (Alvaro Flores) entertains the crowds at Club Mex. Photo credit – Josh Bird

From the moment you enter the building, it is clear that you are in for a great night out. Instead of a traditional theatre ticket, a neon wristband is wrapped around your wrist as you are led to the cafe/bar. You can get drinks served in neon Club Mex cups. The theatre itself has been brilliantly converted into a night club, complete with a DJ, two stages, palm trees, disco balls and strip neon lighting. The audience stand on the dance floor and are entertained by club reps who, like the other characters, mingle with the audience in this hugely entertaining, immersive show. Audience participation is encouraged and rewarded with shots and drinks.

Productions like Club Mex run the risk of being a novelty experience, where the play itself rarely stands up to the excitement of the event. Thankfully, comedian Tamar Broadbent’s fantastically funny script matches John-Victor’s superb lyrics and musical score to create a fully rounded new musical that has a strong narrative, in addition to brilliant songs.

Tiff (Alison Arnopp), Lou (Emma Louise Hoey) and bride-to-be Mel (Jade Johnson). Photo credit – Josh Bird

In this coming of age story, Mel (Jade Johnson) is on her hen-do in Cancun, Mexico, with her best friends. Tiff (Alison Arnopp) is a ‘free spirit’, using the holiday to have sex with as many men as she can. Lou (Emma Louise Hoey) is determined to lose her virginity. Throughout their holiday, they are hosted by club reps, Josh (Jeremy Sartori) and the flirtatiously seductive Antonio (Alvaro Flores).

Yes, it is true that these characters can be reduced to ‘types’ like in Sex and the City, but this is what makes them so relatable. The three lead actresses share an incredible chemistry that is infectious, making their friendship entirely believable. You can’t avoid identifying with them as they encounter romance, jealous boyfriends, and embarrassing sunburn. In this intimate, immersive setting it is hard not to experience the ups and downs of the holiday along with the characters.

Each member of the cast plays their character perfectly and are also talented singers. Jade Johnson particularly stood out for me. During Mel’s solo ballad, Cry, her phenomenally powerful vocals left me with goosebumps, and the man opposite mouthing ‘wow’.

Mel (Jade Johnson) and Graham (Bradley Connor). Photo credit – Josh Bird.

Unfortunately, Club Mex‘s immersive setting creates problems when the action takes place on the floor. The majority of the audience cannot see what is happening, particularly those who are not tall. Most of the scenes based on the floor are crucially important to the plot, so sadly, it meant that I missed a lot of what was happening. Although you can hear the dialogue and songs, it is frustrating when the audience members in close vicinity to the action roar with laughter at something you cannot see.

A handful of technical problems on the night also meant that for the first few seconds of some songs, the vocals were difficult to hear. However, it didn’t affect the experience too much because they are such brilliant songs. Anthemic clubbing songs are cleverly mixed with songs that suit the traditional music genre, keeping Club Mex‘s score feeling modern, fresh and strangely familiar.

Despite a few niggling problems on the night, Club Mex is still a great show. It is a unique concept that works brilliantly. Combining clubbing with theatre creates an immersive, fun experience that will make you laugh, dance, and do the Mexican wave.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

If one thing can capture the euphoric feeling of watching this show, it is this photo of Alvaro Flores’ Antonio:-

Antonio (Alvaro Flores) crowd surfing. Photo credit – Josh Bird

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