“Mack and Mabel” at the Southwark Playhouse

Mack and Mabel has a reputation as a difficult musical to stage successfully. But you’d never guess that from the fine production now showing at the Southwark Playhouse. In the expert hands of director Thom Southerland the piece becomes what aficionados have long suggested – one of Jerry Herman’s finest works.

The love story, set in the early days of the movie business, is slight. But, like the films its protagonist Mack Sennett makes, it has all you need to capture an audience: “love, light, laughter”. Perhaps inspired by Mack’s love of speed, Southerland takes the piece at such a pace that you won’t have time to worry about plot. This is a glorious mix of melodrama, bathing beauties and Keystone Cops. The only disappointment is that the often-promised gorilla doesn’t turn up.

One thing everyone agrees on is how fantastic the songs are. There isn’t a bad number in Mack and Mabel and in this production they all get the delivery they deserve. Norman Bowman and Laura Pitt-Pulford are both impressive in the title roles. The latter deserves special mention for her fantastic delivery of the Barbara Cook standard ‘Time Heals Everything’. There are fine performances from Jessica Martin, as studio stalwart Lottie Ames, and Stuart Matthew Price shows he’s thoroughly on the ball, dealing with a minor wardrobe malfunction while sounding fantastic.

Lee Proud’s choreography is outstandingly ambitious and, impressively executed by the ensemble, it adds a great deal of humour. There are fine comic performances, especially from Steven Serlin as the studio’s producer – his crew may be making comedy shorts but Mack and Mabel is a grown-up affair with a famously downbeat ending. Some find this unsatisfying, but Southerland emphasises the work’s melancholy and nostalgia to create a moving, weighty experience that is not to be missed.

Until 25 August 2012

www.southwarkplayhouse.co.uk

Photo by Annabel Vere

Written 12 July 2012 for The London Magazine

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