Mack and Mabel

Image courtesy of Shinya Suzuki.

Mack and Mabel at the Edinburgh Playhouse
Until 21st November

Set between 1911 and 1938 in the silent movie era before the coming of ‘talkies’, Mack & Mabel is based on the real life romance of director Mack Sennett and his deli-girl turned film-star Mabel Normand. Whilst the plot has its faults there is much to be applauded in the production.

Robert Jones’ first act set recreates the inside of a Hollywood studio and is truly visually striking. Two large strips of film lights dress the stage floor and there is an old-fashioned video camera positioned downstage. This visual treat for the audience is a great example of preconditioning and sets the atmosphere effectively.

The orchestra is positioned high above the performers. The lively overture led by Robert Scott is superb with their visibility serving as a reminder that they are just as much a part of the production as the on-stage performers.

Speaking of performers, Michael Ball undoubtedly has still got it. Portraying Mack convincingly, he performs the numbers with aplomb and proves to be light on his feet. Rebecca LaChance (Mabel) has the acting skills to match his. Her rendition of ‘Time Heals Everything’ is not overly polished, as it no doubt could have been, but instead conveys real emotion. Triple threat, Anna-Jane Casey – playing co-film star Lottie – has tremendous presence and is also worthy of commendation.

One of the show’s greatest assets is the video and projection design by Jon Driscoll. Projections are incorporated seamlessly and innovatively into the live theatre, which is fitting for a musical set in the time of Hollywood’s silent movies. When the front of a train was wheeled on stage, a projection of the remaining carriages appeared behind it, creating the illusion of the complete thing. This incorporation of film with live theatre worked to greatest effect in ‘Hundreds of Girls’, where Sennett’s Bathing Beauties appeared to literally have slid down slides and swung off swings from the projection screen and onto the stage.

Stephen Mear’s choreography was ‘spectapular’ for the number ‘Tap Your Troubles Away’. Brilliantly led and sung by Casey who was supported by the slick and sharp ensemble, the number was a highlight. The inclusion of slapstick elements was also entertaining: from the number ‘Look What Happened to Mabel’ which recreated a sequence of silent two-reelers to the pie fight which erupted on stage during Act One.

Despite sad moments during the show – particularly the heartfelt ‘I Promise You A Happy Ending’ that Mack never gets the chance to fulfill – which are necessary inclusions in order to tell the story, the number ‘I Wanna Make the World Laugh’ encapsulates what is at the heart of this musical. Mack and Mabel ultimately leaves the audience with a smile on their face.

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