Like nearly every one-hander, for all the possible production values, stimulating concepts and masterful writing, I, AmDram ultimately stands or falls on the nerve of its sole performer. Fortunately, Hannah Maxwell has a rare and instant likeability, and as a result we’re willing to be borne along with her in this reflection on her history, and this background at which she finds herself beginning to chafe.
Welwyn Garden City (Hertfordshire)’s Thalians Musical and Dramatic Society have been practically synonymous with Maxwell’s family for generations, and with this intimacy she leads us in affectionate tribute to everything amateur theatre. Where once this might have been a more common experience, many of the audience in London are likely to have limited acquaintance with a lot of what Maxwell references, but she’s so disarming it hardly seems to matter.
The slightly awkward moments of the production all work to her purpose in poking the same kind of fun at clumsy theatrical conventions that you might at a long-suffering sibling: the fondness and respect is always apparent. I, AmDram is often startlingly witty, whether giving the audience no choice in a practical group study session on the nature of the long blackout or building to her mother directing her in My Fair Lady’s ‘On The Street Where You Live’. This last moment is effectively a victory, as Maxwell tells us of the time she was denied the part of Freddie she had hoped for in the Thalians.
Her lesbianism, growing geographical and cultural distance from her family and their reactions to these things while steeped in such tradition are only touched on: perhaps Maxwell thought it would make the piece something too heavy or more conventional to further dwell on these things. As it is, with its enjoyable choreography, short musical numbers and some efficiently simple dramaturgy (Michelle Madsen) I AmDram skirts the clichés it might have fallen prey to. In this fashion, too, it doesn’t quite “utilise queer theory” in any meaningful or interesting way, and beyond that continues the gaffe typical of work at the Camden People’s Theatre seeming to be so ‘inclusive’ yet gendering random members of the audience.
It’s not a perfectly smooth show, but there’s more than enough charm here to make up for that. I, AmDram is imaginative, good-natured and thoughtful, and wants to enfold you up into itself, into the comforting weight of years of productions by people who put them on for the sake of it. That’s enthusiasm. You see it in Maxwell, too.
I, AmDram played at the Camden People’s Theatre until 3 May.
Photo: Daisy King