REVIEW: Mack & Mabel at Chichester Festival Theatre

Michael Ball and Rebecca LaChance lead a stand-out cast in Chichester Festival Theatre's production of Mack & Mabel. Picture: Manuel Harlan
Michael Ball and Rebecca LaChance lead a stand-out cast in Chichester Festival Theatre's production of Mack & Mabel. Picture: Manuel Harlan
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All Mack Sennett wanted to do in life was to make people laugh.

And art imitated life last night at Chichester Festival Theatre (July 21) when the audience was swept up by the highs and lows of emotion in Mack & Mabel.

Jack Edwards from Portsmouth, who plays Fatty (pictured centre) takes the lead in the Keystone Cops sequence

Jack Edwards from Portsmouth, who plays Fatty (pictured centre) takes the lead in the Keystone Cops sequence

The musical tells the love story of the real-life titular characters – film director Mack Sennett and his muse Mabel Normand – in what is a bittersweet love letter to the birth of the film industry.

And what a spectacle it was. Through projections and specially-recorded sequences, film was intrinsically woven not only into the plot, but into the show’s visual tapestry.

With the silver-screen as a backdrop, Michael Ball as an aged Sennett relives the fortunes of his studio company, inseparably linked to his relationship with Mabel.

In resurrecting the hard-nosed director, Ball has continued his winning streak of roles at CFT. His chemistry with co-star Rebecca LaChance was perfectly balanced: she is the beauty to his beast, her innocence and lack of airs and graces softening his rough edges, but Ball shows the humanity in his anti-hero when Mack repays Mabel’s kindness in the musical’s final minutes.

Chichester Festival Theatre has continued its reputation of producing international-standard musical revivals

And as Mabel’s star ascended, audiences also witnessed the birth of LaChance’s. She played the bright-eyed ingenue with enthusiasm and effortless charisma, but it was the weariness in her voice when Mabel is overcome by substance abuse that sealed the deal.

This tragic ending is the only thing that isn’t Hollywood about the production. The Keystone Cops sequence – a live enactment of Sennett’s film – was a masterclass of physical comedy. The actors playing cops and robbers, led by Portsmouth’s own Jack Edwards as Fatty, swarmed the stage with movement but worked as one fluid collective.

Chichester Festival Theatre has continued its reputation of producing international-standard musical revivals, following the successes of Singin’ In The Rain, Gypsy and Sweeney Todd, which won Ball an Olivier Award. Judging by the standing ovation he received during his bows with LaChance, the actor could be adding another to his trophy cabinet, and LaChance the first in what looks to be an award-filled career. Until September 5.