Watermill - Mack and Mabel
18th May to 9th July 2005.
From The Guardian.
John Doyle's production injects plenty of energy - perhaps too much at times, as the show feels a little too insistent for the tiny stage - as well as capturing echoes of the wistful melancholy of a score and story that work as fading memory, something caught in amber. Although hampered by David Soul as Sennett - an actor who hails from the Rex Harrison school of singing and who is at times inaudible - Doyle's production is probably as good as this musical gets on stage. I suspect that it is one of those shows that works best as a soundtrack, with melodic tunes such as I Won't Send Roses and Look What Happened to Mabel working better as stand alone songs rather than in the framework of a flimsy story.
Despite the flaws there is fun to be had along the way, with Anna-Jane Casey proving why she is one of the best musical actresses around: a great pair of lungs and an ability to bring dramatic depth to a role. Caught forever in the follow-spot and the eye of the camera, Normand's decline into drug-taking and scandal is presented beautifully - she appears to disintegrate before your eyes, like a ghost who is haunting herself. It may not be a classic Watermill summer musical, but it is still a much more enjoyable experience than most trips to the West End.
From The Times.
From the Newbury Weekly News.
Sensational Mack and Mabel
Mack and Mabel, at The Watermill, until July 9
In the days when movies were movies and sound came from a piano, there was a larger-than-life director called Mack Sennett who wanted to make the world laugh. He created stars like Mabel Normand, the waitress from Flatbush who fell in love with him. Mack and Mabel is their story.
"Keep the heart!" composer and lyricist Jerry Herman told director John Doyle and musical arranger Sarah Travis during a discussion about The Watermill's latest production.
They have done so by putting in place two masters of their trade - the fantastic, dynamic Anna-Jane Casey as Mabel and the laidback husky-voiced David Soul as Mack who, like another MGM producer of the time, could not understand "why people wanted to hear actors talk". It is a combination which strikes fire, making this one of the best Doyle/Travis productions so far.
Both have the vital gift of including the audience in the production, addressing us as friends whose opinion matter. So we experience the exuberant excitement of Mabel, agonise when Mack tells her he "won't send roses" and desperately pray that Mack will contact Mabel to stop her leaving him because of his dictatorial approach to her acting.
In a cleverly monochrome setting studded with movie cameras and steel balconies reminiscent of West Side Story, the action is exciting, exactingly vital and the music, varying from brash to heartrending but always excellent, is performed by the largest company of actor/musicians at The Watermill so far including the effervescent Sarah Whittuck as Lotty.
An immense sense of enjoyment comes in waves from the cast with numbers like This Time It's the Big Time, Tap Your Troubles Away and When Mabel Comes Into the Room, contrasting with the beautiful Time Heals Everything - Anna-Jane pouring poignancy into hoping she can forget Mack Next Year, Some Year.
No need to worry Jerry, this production has a big heart. The fact that it has Soul, too, will do it no harm. When asked, in the after show talkback, to describe what it was like working at The Watermill, David's reply was "sensational". Yup, that's the word for this Mack and Mabel. Along with unmissable.
From the Daily Telegraph.
"An ace collection of songs with a really duff script" was how the
Telegraph's Charles Spencer greeted Mack and Mabel when, after a 21-year
wait, the 1974 Broadway flop finally made it into the West End.
From Kick FM.
John Doyle and Sarah Travis have stamped their own style on Watermill productions. The combination of actor-musicians on the small stage is always a compelling combination, and theyve done it again with Mack and Mabel, the story of the girl from the deli who becomes a silent movie star. Mack Sennet and Mabel Normand have a tempestuous love-hate relationship, but the mismatch of their ambitions drives them apart. In the end, Mabels decline into drug addiction gets turned into a Hollywood big finish, if not a happy ending.
The play is heavily dependent on the two main characters. Anna-Jane Casey was magnificent as Mabel; a gutsy performance showing the charisma that attracted her to Sennet in the first place. David Soul, as Mack, was convincing with his self-centredness, gradually being won over by Mabels charms, but the night I went he was having a little trouble remembering the words which slowed the pace down.
Perhaps not as memorable a production as some of the other Doyle-Travis greats, but an enjoyable evening.
From the Sunday Times.
The Stage review: ("What a show! ... skilful direction and a superbly versatile cast"). The Rogues & Vagabonds review is here ("ten out of ten for the production"). The Reviews Gate review is here ("not quite vintage [but] it is still an evocative and memorable show, a real cut above most musicals on show right now").