REVIEW: Mack & Mabel, Chichester Festival Theatre, until September 5

Even before the show started its run, director Jonathan Church was predicting it was going to be the venue’s most successful musical ever.

Tuesday, 21st July 2015, 11:30 pm
Mack & Mabel. Pic by Manuel Harlan
Mack & Mabel. Pic by Manuel Harlan

Let’s hope he is right. It certainly deserves to be. It’s not been a show noted for its success this side of the Atlantic, but Church serves it up in a dazzling production, full of heart, full of longing, full of love and full of loss – a show which uses the CFT stage quite brilliantly and brings out the very best from its performers.

The tale, based in truth, is the story of the ill-fated love shared, but not really enjoyed, by legendary Hollywood film-maker Mack Sennett and his even more ill-fated star, Mabel Normand,

Just as he was always going to be, Michael Ball is immense as Mack, giving a superb performance as the guy who knows how to bully and probably knows how to love, but is absolutely hopeless at expressing it. Ball gives us Mack the tyrant, the man who blazes a trail but can’t make the transition to the new craze for talkies. At times, he is furious, at times almost grudgingly tender. Always he is superb.

But the night’s revelation is US newcomer Rebecca LaChance. Yes, Mabel shows spirit, and presumably that’s the point, but you get the feeling in the wrong hands it could be a rather colourless role. It’s certainly not with LaChance, who is simply lovely in the part, oozing decency, niceness and vulnerability. Look What Happened to Mabel seems the highlight for so long for its sheer busy-ness – but for sheer beauty, her second-half Time Heals Everything tops the lot. Wonderful stuff in a production which is wonderful in every other respect, from the big numbers to the small, from the projections to the dancing. Warm, funny and very, very affecting

Phil Hewitt