Though the critics were lukewarm on Mack and Mabel, Jane Shillingford, her teacher friend Keith and I enjoyed it hugely. Critics do not always get it right – Les Miserables had dreadful reviews and is still going strong and I think Mack and Mabel will be a great national success, following on Gypsy, for Jonathan Church artistic director of Chichester Theatre. In fact it shares the theme of Gypsy of how an obsessive, tyrannical figure – the mother in Gypsy the director Mack Sennett in Mack and Mabel – can be the driver for success. The relationship between Mack Sennett and actress Mabel Normand dominates the musical. Sennett, the King of the Silents, who discovered Fatty Arbuckle and the Keystone Cops, shaped the career of Mabel even though she left him for a rival director. She actually had her own studio but that, her patronage of Charlie Chaplin and tuberculosis, were not mentioned in this story.
Michael Ball as the director gave a thoroughly convincing and well-rounded performance. Perhaps his popularity was another reason for not over-praising this show but he can act, sing and dance to a high standard. He was ably supported by the young and winsome Annie-Jane Casey as Mabel.
Then show has the high production values that one now associates with Church. A projector and back screen showed reels from the silent and Hollywood and other locations, particularly effective in an beach dancing sequence, and the choreography was exquisitely arranged, especially a long tap dancing sequence.
Jerry Herman’s show revisits a recurrent theme of Singing In the Rain, Sunset Boulevard and L’Artiste – the effect of Hollywood moving on from the silent to the talkie – in a informed and absorbing fashion. Whilst I have mentioned certain factual omissions, I never knew that Frank Capra started his illustrious cinematic career as a scriptwriter for Mack Sennett.
I have followed the Rust debate on watching v attending sport. When it comes to the performing arts there is no argument as to be present at a live event and to gauge the audience reaction – something which critics rarely do – is integral. The cast received a standing ovation as they took their bows which says more than any review.