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A review by Mary Couzens for EXTRA! EXTRA!





Danielle Tarento in association with Southwark Playhouse presents

Mack and Mabel


NormanBowman (Mack) LauraPitt Pulford (Mabel) Richard J Hunt (FattyArbuckle) in Mack and Mabel at Southwark Playhouse

Photo by Annabel Vere


Presented by arrangement with Samuel French Ltd.


Book by Michael Stewart

Music and Lyrics by Jerry Herman

Revised by Francine Pascal

Based on an idea by Leonard Spigelglass

Director Thom Southerland

Musical Director Michael Bradley

Choreographer Lee Proud

Set & Costume Designer Jason Denvir

Lighting Designer Howard Hudson

Sound Designer Andrew Johnson


Southwark Playhouse
5 July – 25 August 2012

When you consider the caliber of its show-stopping songs and intriguing storyline, Mack and Mabel is THE ultimate musical. It’s got pathos, humour, drama and heart, on top of tremendous buoyancy in the competitive arena of musical theatre. The fact that it’s also based on real people and events makes it even more compelling.

Mack Sennett – ‘King of Comedy’ – creator of the famed Keystone Cops, Bathing Beauties, and pie the face slapstick, was unwittingly wowed by Mabel Normand, a wide eyed artist’s model whose potential he spied in tandem with her camera loving face. For the purposes of this musical, Normand is a Flatbush (as in NY) deli waitress, possibly as words like ‘Nellie’ are just too tempting to add a rhyme or two, to!

This production is, largely, set in Sennett’s studio, and a row of props stacked along shelves and in boxes are quickly put to use, giving a ‘let’s make it up as we go along’ feeling, which is how he actually worked. Beginning in 1929, as his studio was about to close down, looking back over his career, from 1910, its’ main focus are his interactions with ‘madcap’ silent movie star Mabel Normand, whom he’d loved and lost. Set/Costume Designer Jason Denvir gives us a tantalizing first impression of the show that endures.

Jerry Herman, composer of Hello Dolly!, La Cage aux Follies and more fashioned the show’s music and lyrics, so it’s a sure bet you’ll be humming as you leave. But the proverbial cherry on the sundae for its duration is the shining cast of this production, who make it a definitive one, in every sense of the word. Rather than a typical ensemble cast, with stars shining at its centre, and ‘lesser’ players sidelined, this production offers a veritable cornucopia of vibrant individuals, gloriously hell-bent on delivering the performances of their lives! Those gamely lining the front giggled like excited kids when hoofers nearly fell in their laps during a hilarious Keystone Cop scene, and collectively swooned on cue at the nearly palpable romance of Mack and Mabel’s theme song, ‘I Won’t Send Roses,’ delivered in a defining moment by Norman Bowman as the cautionary Sennett and Laura Pitt Pulford as starry-eyed optimist Normand.



Laura Pitt Pulford (Mabel) in Mack and Mabel at Southwark Playhouse

Photo by Annabel Vere


Pitt Pulford’s heart-felt performance as Mrs. Frank in last year’s triumphant production of Parade at Southwark Playhouse was a forerunner to her rising star turn here, which tugs at the heart-strings so effectively that tears threatened more than once. In the audience, there were references to her singing as ‘thrilling,’ and a stranger similarly enraptured, in the aftermath of Pitt-Pulford’s fiery rendition agreed with my comparison to her fiery performance of belter ‘Wherever He Ain’t’ with that of young, unknown Barbra Streisand’s ‘Don’t Rain on My Parade’ in the Broadway production of Funny Girl. If justice serves, it won’t be long before this gifted lady ups the ante in the West End, though musical productions just don’t come any finer than this one! Pitt Pulford’s moving delivery of aching torch song ‘Time Heals Everything’, another shining moment in a sparkling performance was quite simply, breath-taking!



Laura Pitt Pulford (Mabel) in Mack and Mabel at Southwark Playhouse

Photo by Annabel Vere


Mack Sennett was nothing if not a carver of his own path and there’s a sense of the reckless intoxication of early Hollywood movie making running through this production from start to finish. A real pioneer, Sennett was influential on every filmmaker and comedian after him and it’s tragic many of his films were destroyed to make room in warehouses for newer ones! I was floored to hear Sennett, aka Norman Bowman’s Scottish brogue after the show, as his blended Canadian/ New England accent had been letter perfect in it. Pitt Pulford’s Irish American accent, speaking and singing was similarly spot-on throughout.  Voice/accent coach Simon Money did his homework, enabling his actors to come up with the goods.


Norman Bowman (Mack) in Mack and Mabel at Southwark Playhouse

Photo by Annabel Vere


This stunning production must surely be the plume de la plume for Director Thom Southerland, who has lead other great shows at Southwark Playhouse, as he’s obviously put his all into its every detail. The result is an irresistible experience destined to convert even the most resistant viewer into a musical lover. Retaining tragic aspects of Mack and Mabel’s tale give the show appropriately bittersweet tinges.

Though, every detail of this production, in which six dancers made us feel as though there were sixty-six, is top shelf. We spoke briefly with Lee Proud, the humble, ingenious Choreographer of the show, whose West End calling card these days is smash-hit musical Billy Elliot. Mr. Proud spoke of his desire to ‘amplify’ the tap dancing in this show, while working around the concrete floor of Southwark Playhouse. The remedy, which created an exuberant ‘trooping of the tappers’, was to quickly place light-weight boards down and repeatedly lift and reposition them to dance on during the fast paced routine to ‘Tap Your Troubles Away,’ for Sennett’s ‘talkie’ comeback following Normand’s departure from his studio.

To this production’s great credit, its score, played by a hidden eleven piece orchestra, is rendered in a wonderfully sentimental, lovingly escapist style totally in keeping with its time frame, deliciously unconscious of ‘the market.’ Whether that be from a lack of funds, stroke of genius, or both, it elevates the show to a level unreachable via Broadway recordings of it, lending a delightfully off the cuff charm. Thanks to Musical Supervisor, Iain Vincent-Gatt and Musical Director/Vocal Arranger, Michael Bradley!

Another starry performance in this magical firmament is Jessica Martin’s (Mabel in 1996 West End production) Lottie Aims, whose uplifting singing is, possibly, topped only by her dancing, so energetically effervescent on the aforementioned ‘Tap Your Troubles Away,’ that it caused a rash of smiling in the audience, affecting even the previously unsmilling. Stuart Matthew Price, who shares intermittent narrating honours as young Frank Capra also graces this production with emotive singing and naturalistic acting. There’s a depth of feeling in the performances of this production all round that is commendable. As Sennett himself was wont to say, ‘What’s an artist if he can’t change life?’At curtain calls, cheers were as spontaneous as this beautifully enacted production cum work of art miraculously seemed to be.

Jessica Martinas (LottieAmes) in Mack and Mabel at Southwark Playhouse

Photo by Annabel Vere


All bets are off…This winning production of Mack and Mabel has every musical in London trumped, hands down!


Stuart Matthew Price (FrankCapra) in Mack and Mabel at Southwark Playhouse

Photo by Annabel Vere


Southwark Playhouse
The Vault
Shipwright Yard
(Corner of Tooley St. and
Bermondsey St)
Box Office: 020 7407 0234
Nearest Rail/Tube: London Bridge
Northern line/Jubilee line
Thursday 5 July –
Saturday 25 August
Monday - Saturday at 7.30pm
Saturday matinee at 3.00pm
Please note - during the Olympics, evening performances from 28th July - 12th August have a later start time of 8.00pm
Tickets: £10 - £22.50
‘Airline style’ pricing, the earlier you
book the cheaper the tickets



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