What better way to celebrate the glorious London summer sunshine, thought the Official London Theatre team, than experience a makeover fit for the Greek island paradise of Mamma Mia!?
“The male cast members just bring an extra sock to wear.”
These are not words of encouragement when they are delivered in an email describing the fake tanning process a shy male arts journalist is about to undergo. Certainly not if you’re the said arts journalist. If you’re anyone apart from that person, they are, apparently, hilarious.
But as my giggle-suppressing colleagues told me, the summer-ready makeover feature is so often the realm of the female that a male version would be as refreshing as a cool glass of Pimms on a hot summer evening.
Of course, they didn’t mention that most makeover features don’t result in the subject wearing an obscenely tight wetsuit and trying to dance in flippers alongside three far more attractive, coordinated and toned specimens.
So, how do you get the gloriously healthy forever summer Mamma Mia! look?
To give the impression of living on an idyllic, sun-drenched island – rather than the not so idyllic Croydon – a high quality natural tan is essential. If I lived on a Greek island I’d undoubtedly look bright red most of the year, but understandably that’s not what audiences want to see, so beautifully bronzed it is.
I’ve never fake tanned. In the depressingly stereotypical fashion of the non-metrosexual male, I’m barely able to locate moisturiser on the shelf at Boots without requiring help from at least three assistants. This whole process is as alien to me as Yoda. So standing in just shorts – yes, the world was spared the sight of me in just a judiciously placed foot warmer, though my handy tanner did confirm that the practice means “you do get to know people pretty quickly” – with a stranger rubbing mousse onto me while a colleague took pictures was unusual, to say the least.
That the mousse resembled, in all its glossy brown glory, something I’d swiftly step around on the street didn’t help as I attempted to breathe in for half an hour while repeatedly laughing nervously.
The cast go through the process – without the picture taking and nervous laughter, I believe – twice a week to keep that sun-kissed glow, though during the summer, I’m told by new recruits Lloyd Green, James Alexander Gibbs and James Evans, they attempt to keep the tan topped up in the most natural way possible. Not always easy in London.
While I feel a tad self-conscious wearing only sports shorts backstage at the Novello Theatre, the boys from the cast expose their far more defined torsos for up to 1,000 people a day as part of the show. While I’m doing this because summer readiness is a staple of magazines aimed at women, body consciousness is clearly not a single gender issue.
“In our industry so much of it is about appearance,” Green, Gibbs and Evans tell me. “We all try to take care of our appearance because it’s what we’ll get employed on. You have to take care of your physique because there will be someone else who’ll do it better.”
This means, of course, that my three momentary compadres can regularly be found lifting weights in the local gym, hoping to give greater definition to their already admirable abdominals or make a pectoral perkier. I, on the other hand, have chosen a more relaxed exercise regime. As such I don’t look as good in a constrictive yet unzipped wetsuit, though through some cruel twist of fate or cruel PR planning, I am the only person wearing such an outfit.
The wetsuit is, of course, one of the many costumes they wear and dance in as part of the hit show about a daughter preparing to marry, the three men who may be her father and her free-spirit mother who used to sing in a band.
As I’m sucking everything possible in and standing on stage, my makeover must be complete. I am indeed summer-ready, but is summer ready for me?
To get the full Mamma Mia! experience I’m taught roughly 10 seconds of a dance routine that involves high-knee leaping across the stage while wearing flippers.
Let me tell you, these boys may head to the gym to give the biceps a workout, but they don’t need to do any cardio work. A couple of minutes badly following in their flippered footsteps and I’m sweating enough to create a small sea to help recreate the island coastline. This is bad news for the tan that, though it was finished with a hairdryer to help it set, could now be as streaky as a pack of bacon.
Thankfully it is not just me who was caught out by the stamina needed to get through a performance of Mamma Mia! Green, Gibbs and Evans all agree that the fitness levels needed took them by surprise when they first joined the cast.
“The two-show day is tough. Having the buzz from everyone getting up at the end, then having to go and get some food… you’re about to fall asleep then you realise you’ve got to start again in half an hour! By the end we’re all fine and off for a pint after.”
A pint. After taking an exfoliating glove into a shower, being rubbed down by a stranger and dancing in swimwear, there’s a concept that’s not totally alien to me.