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The book is as unsatisfactory as the on/off love affair between movie director Mack Sennet and his one-time leading lady Mabel Normand.

But the songs, the staging and the choreography in this tweaked version of Jerry Herman’s 1974 fact-based musical could hardly be bettered.

Told in flashback, as Norman Bowman’s unsympathetic Sennet says goodbye to the Studios where he once filmed his popular, profitable two-reel silver screen hits, it flits from Brooklyn to Hollywood as the industry develops and Mabel is forced to play second fiddle to his overriding passion for movie-making.

Props and paraphernalia line the back wall of the playing area (the band is completely hidden away elsewhere) creating a sense both of former bustle and current decline, as Mack turns Mabel from deli waitress to box office star, only to lose her to a rival studio.

But we get only passing detail of her decline into drugs or the scandalous events with which she was linked.

But never mind – this is a very classy production for a fringe venue, with  Jessica Martin sympathetic as actress Lottie (who gives up her man and her role when she sees which way the wind is blowing)  and Lee Proud’s sparky Bathing Beauties and Keystone Cops routines.

And in Laura Pitt-Pulford’s Mabel, director Thom Southerland has a performer who not only tears at the heart strings but delivers the musical numbers with panache.  

Louise Kingsley
Southwark Playhouse, Shipwright Yard, SE1 2TF
Tube  London Bridge
Until 25th August
£10- £22.50
southwarkplayhouse.co.uk

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Theatre review: Mack and Mabel at Southwark Playhouse
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