Wednesday, August 12, 2015


Chichester Festival Theatre

The familiar overture – all the best tunes back to back – is not an ideal preparation for the patchy, often dark, narrative.
The story is a true one, at least in outline. Slightly grumpy maker of unpretentious two-reelers makes a comedy star of the girl from the deli. She leaves him, citing artistic differences, then returns, before dying tragically young. The ending here is re-written – she lives on in celluloid form – but it's still pretty bleak.
Fortunately, Jonathan Church and his team [MD Robert Scott and choreographer Stephen Mear] package the show so attractively, and their cast is so strong, that the flaws and the rough edges are almost imperceptible. Appropriately, the action is often played against a backdrop of moving pictures; there's a nice rail-car scene with perspective vanishing point.
Michael Ball brings a welcome warmth to Mack Sennett, though this is not a likeable man, despite his burning desire to make the world laugh; he brings his inimitable vocal technique to the big numbers. We see him first as a broken, bankrupt old man; in flashback we see his struggle to bring slapstick to the silent screen, and his chemistry with Rebecca LaChance's lovely Mabel Normand.
Strong support from the company, including Jack Edwards' Fatty [Arbuckle] and Anna-Jane Casey's charismatic hoofer Lottie. The showy production number, Tap Your Troubles Away, and the fantastic Keystone Cops sequence, though neither of them central to the story, both lend a big-stage sparkle to a flawed but fascinating musical homage to the early days of Hollywood.

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