Friday, 3 August 2012

Mack and Mabel - review (2)

Written by: Adam Carver (@CarverAdam)

Southwark Playhouse, London

It was with some excitement and trepidation that I entered the Southwark Playhouse to see their much-acclaimed revival of Jerry Herman's Mack & Mabel. Documenting the real-life story of Hollywood director Mack Sennett and his star-leading lady Mabel Normand, Mack and Mabel was hailed as a flawed masterpiece accordingly; director Thom Southerland has lovingly reworked the show for this staging.

Set against the glamour of an emerging Hollywood picture house, the story centres on the intimate and often difficult relationship of Mack and Mabel intelligently and truthfully delivered by Norman Bowman and Laura Pitt-Pulver respectively. Indeed these two actors are at the top of their game, particularly Pitt-Pulver whose exquisite vocals soar above the band delivering a superbly emotional telling of each beautiful song. Her eleven o'clock number Time Heals Everything being particularly gut wrenching - I wept.

Set against the elegant haphazard beauty of Jason Denvirs set, constructed of upright pianos, suitcases, ladders, and period cameras the powerhouse performance Laura Pitt-Pulver generously gifts us is devastatingly beautiful. A broken woman desperately in love and gripped by addiction, she holds the audience from the moment she appears a feisty young delivery girl to her tragic death in the arms of her lover. It's a classic diva role, which Pitt-Pulver relentlessly delivers, with astounding perfection.

The production is lead by its small but exquisitely utilised ensemble, each actor offering richly developed characters and together a richness of sound and synchronicity that is rarely found in current musicals. Each scene effervesces with the all too familiar joy that the creative process brings: they buzz with the realities of the early cinema industry. Notably, Stuart Matthew Price delivers an utterly charming performance in his narrative role along side Jessica Buckby who, despite not being in a featured role, during each ensemble number was magnetic. Of course this fine company are a testament to the skill of musical director Michael Bradley and choreographer Lee Proud whose musical staging uses The Vault's unusual space to its best; particularly during Tap Your Troubles Away, a fantastically executed tap number.

Ultimately Mack and Mabel filled me with hope: a hope for the future of London musical theatre. The Southwark Playhouse have, yet again, delivered an exquisite production of a challenging piece which not only rivals any current West End competition but with integrity, grace, style, and a good deal of tap, knocks the commercial theatres' offerings out of the ball-park.

Mack & Mabel is running at the Southwark Playhouse until August 25th 2012.
@mackandmabel @swkplay

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