Mack & Mabel – Review

BROS Theatre Company
reviewed by Jenni Balow

LIGHTS, CAMERA, ACTION! The Keystone Studios fill the stage with props and their famous Kops in a scintillating stunner of a show presented by the BROS Theatre Company from South West London.

This is the era of the first silent movies from 1910 when Fatty Arbuckle and his slapstick friends slip up on banana skins, villains carry bags full of swag, the Kops give chase, blowing whistles and waving batons, and bathing beauties and sparkling showgirls tap dance and shimmie their way to stardom – while custard pies fly in all directions.

The show’s kingpins are urbane movie director Mack Sennett (Nigel Cole) and Mabel Normand (Bonnie Allen) the waitress who finds fame, when opportunity comes knocking. Working with them towards the Californian studio dream are Lottie, (Kerry Magee) Frank, (Nick Moorhead) Ella, (Caroline Hayes) Kessel, (Marc Batten) Bauman, (Guy Chaperlin) Mr Arbuckle, (Chris Morris) Freddie, (Ben Hughes) and Andy, (Paul Carella) plus a rival film director (John Hackett), all listed in a stylish cine camera designed programme.

This lavish, all singing all dancing musical doesn’t quite have a cast of thousands, but they certainly pack the Minack stage. This is one big company, with stacks of Keystone props, including a whirring chainsaw and even an Old Success life ring from Sennen, all collected by a team headed by Jane Bean.

Mabel may by a silent film star, but her relationship with Mack is always a pretty noisy affair, and seriously messy as they become addicted to success in this musical by Jerry Herman, based on a book about the famous real life characters by Michael Stewart, revised by Francine Pascal.

Director Wesley Henderson Roe pulls out all the stops during a rapid Keystone Kops chase, just like a flickering silent movie, and follows it up with a sparkling tip top tap dancing tableau fantastically choreographed by Gita Singham-Willis. On the opening night, the girls deserved an Oscar for going through their immaculate paces, seconds after a downpour that flooded the stage and had a team of Keystone moppers on their hands and knees.

But BROS is a match for the elements, having performed biennially at the Minack for the last 20 years and supported, as always, by Alan Titchmarsh and his wife, fresh from the Chelsea Flower Show.

The band sounded just wonderful, headed by musical director Martin Wilcox, playing more than a dozen songs including I Won’t Send Roses, which will have you humming all the way home.