I will be honest, I had not heard of Mack & Mabel until I was invited to see it at the Theatre Royal in Nottingham. I read up on the production beforehand so that I was a little prepared before I went. I was then looking forward to seeing this musical based on the golden era of silent movies, and Michael Ball was the leading man.
The curtain was already raised as people were filing in to the auditorium to take their seats, the set was a huge industrial warehouse replica with a fallen lighting rig at the forefront, I wondered if many thought it had really fallen or was part of the set. At the top of the ‘warehouse’ on a platform was an orchestra almost hidden from view, you caught a glimpse now and then of the conductor.
Mack & Mabel is based on the true story of the romance between silent movie director Mack Sennett and one of his stars Mabel Normand. Michael Ball is perfectly cast as the commanding film director, owning the stage he was on. When he first appeared in the opening scene, I didn’t recognise that it was him, but then his familiar powerful voice blasted out the opening number and there was no mistaking him.
Mack (Ball) loves making his silent films and more importantly he loves making people laugh with them. Mabel – played by the beautiful Rebeccca LaChance – is a naive but headstrong coffee shop girl who accidentally stumbles into one of Mack’s filming sessions. Mack immediately thinks the feisty girl will be perfect for one of his movies and almost bullies her into joining his team. Mabel’s popularity rises through Mack’s films and she and Mack fall for each other, but Mabel eventually tires of Mack’s controlling and stubborn ways which sees him lose the love of his life; not only from his life, but also to the arms of another man, William Desmond Taylor (played by Mark Inscoe). Taylor leads Mabel down a dark path of self destruction whilst Mack, too stubborn to fight for his love, throws himself into making more funny silent movies and famously creating the Keystone Kops. It was at this point I realised this musical was based on true-life. Mabel spirals further and her lifestyle cuts her life prematurely short, leaving Mack full of sadness and regret.
The use of projection throughout the musical was mesmerising, from the clips of the old silent movies to backdrops of trains and ships making them appear realistic. This really helped the audience feel the heart and soul of the story. Each musical number was powerfully performed but every cast and ensemble member, there were no bad performances. Rebecca’s voice was beautiful to listen to and delivered so gracefully you could continue listening for a long while. Rebecca held such a presence on stage and was the perfect cast as leading lady with Michael Ball, she more than held her own alongside him.
The whole cast were a delight to watch from start to finish and the musical numbers and dancing kept everyone entertained through the whole show. The Keystone Kops scene was choreographed unbelievably well and was by far my favourite scene – the audience giggled along with them.
With so many memorable musical numbers, such as ‘I won’t send roses’ and ‘When Mabel comes into the room’, I left the theatre singing. I would happily listen to Michael Ball singing ‘I won’t send roses’ time and time again.
This new production of the classic Broadway show is now up there with my favourites and deserves to run for a very long time, I would happily go and see it again.
Good – fantastic use of projection, awesome cast, brilliant choreography
Bad – Act 1 seemed a little slow to get into but it picked up