A brilliant idea!
Mack and Mabel
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"Ive just had an idea!" Famous words by the movie impresario Mack Sennet and a concept brought to life in Jerry Herman and Michael Stuart's 'Mack and Mabel' using a revised book by Francine Pascal and directed by Thom Southerland.
Set in the early days of the movie world, the Brooklyn based Keystone studios finds its niche in comedic '2 reel' slapstick movies and the discovery of a star in sassy delivery girl Mabel. Movie director Mack Sennet convinces producer Mr Kessell (Steven Serlin) that it's time to head to the golden state of California - Hollywood to be exact. With his loyal team in tow how could they fail? Well like all Hollywood movies you know what's coming...Love, Betrayal, Fame and ultimately the price paid for it.
The show is set on a sound stage of the studios and we are carried through the plot at a speeding pace, using supporting characters to narrate the plot along. This job is deftly handled mainly by Jessica Martin playing Lottie Ames, who we could watch for days and the solid Stuart Matthew Price playing Frank Capra the ever ignored writer.
A stand out moment was Mabel's 'Wherever He Aint' stunningly delivered by Pitt-Pulford who oozes star quality, definitely one to watch. Despite herself Mabel is madly in love with the self-centred idea obsessed Mack played by Norman Bowman who fails to see anything outside the camera lens, a character hard to like, but in this production we found ourselves warming to towards the end. Perhaps it's the tragic case of two people so wrong for each other it has to be right?
We could find no fault with any of the numbers throughout the show. Even though we've heard the score a few times and felt it jar with the scenes before/after, here they made sense and were woven into the story with the appropriate tone. Perhaps that was down to the absolutely astounding delivery and splendid acting by the cast.
The company as a whole were great, with a lovely silent movie Ham-it-up moment from Paul Hutton as Freddie that got us giggling. The company numbers sound glorious, full of rich harmonies with not one member being a weak link. Although at times the chorus were on stage for the sake of being on stage, especially during the first act, by the time Lee Proud's imaginative and superbly styled choreography kicks in you know why they're there. They hoof their way into your hearts delivering spot on style that could blow some West End shows out of the water. Not to mention the seemingly never-ending Keystone Cops routine that was brilliant.
The lighting is minimal but effective for a moody feel, although at times we wished that it wasnt so gloomy, especially during the bigger, brighter numbers. The orchestra were delegated to a back room meaning the sound was piped in which was an odd choice, perhaps due to the space limitations of the venue, but despite that they were lead beautifully by Associate MD Mark Aspinall.
Overall we would heartily recommend this show, a better value-for-money ticket you would be hard pressed to find in London. Running until the 25th August at the Southwark Playhouse.
Words: Ralph B
Photo: Annabel Vere