Mack & Mabel

Date 22nd March 2024
Society Pendle Hippodrome Theatre Company
Venue Pendle Hippodrome Theatre
Type of Production Musical
Director David Hulme
Musical Director Lisa Manley
Choreographer Dan Mason
Written By Michael Stewart, Jerry Herman and Francine Pascal


Author: Dawn-Marie Woodcock

Pendle Hippodrome Theatre Company kindly invited me to review their latest show Mack and Mabel. What an excellent musical this was. Based on the real-life story of the director, Mack Sennett and his star and lover, Mabel Normand. The story is told through a series of flashbacks narrated by Sennett and is based in the silent era of movie making in early Hollywood. From his discovery of Mabel until her death, Sennett guides the audience through their tumultuous relationship.

Director David Hulme and his cast and crew pulled out all the stops to create a fabulous show. As the show began, the audience were treated to a montage of silent era films displaying Mabel Normand, Charlie Chaplain, Fatty Arbuckle, and the Keystone Cops, to name a few. I thought this a great introduction the show. The gauze then lifted on the stage, and Mack Sennett began his song, ‘When Movies Were Movies.’ As he sang, he walked around an empty film lot strewn with various cloths, ladders, and discarded set, cleverly hiding beneath the cloths were members of the ensemble, ready to burst into action. David’s attention to detail throughout the show was undeniable. It was fast-paced, vibrant and exciting. Scene changes were slick as cast and crew worked together to move trucks and props. The scene set on the train was most effective, a dressed truck that spun to give us both exterior and interior viewpoints. Stage Manager, Paul Thompson and his team worked hard, set changes were unobtrusive, often incorporated into the action played out on stage, giving the appearance of a working film lot. For large changes the stage was pre- set either side of the apron, one side being Mack’s office, the other Mabel’s bedroom. The pre- set areas looked great, and the props used to dress them notable and of the era. I thought props, provided by, Julie Scott, Angela Boult and team were impressive.

Musical Director, Lisa Manley and her orchestra sounded fantastic. The music was ever present but never overpowering vocals or dialogue. Ensemble numbers were lively, harmonies blending seamlessly. There are some delightful songs in this show, each accompanied beautifully by the orchestra.

There were many wonderful routines in this show. I particularly enjoyed the custard pie scene, the cast and ensemble had well-choreographed movements. Assisting David Hulme with the dance routines was, Choreographer, Dan Mason. Dan gave us three memorable routines. ‘Hundreds of Girls’ with Mack Sennett’s Bathing Beauties put me in mind of the old movies with synchronised swimmers. The movements of the feet and hands all in unison. The routine looked amazing, all the girls in the same wigs was a nice touch. ‘Hit ‘Em On The Head’ was another great routine. It was intricate and busy, ‘The Keystone Cops’ chasing the robbers. This routine had humour, it was energetic, slapstick and frantic, aided by the lights flickering, creating an old film reel atmosphere. Dan also choreographed the tap routine for ‘Tap Your Troubles Away.’ A visual treat, all the dancers in silver sparkles, tapping in unison. This routine was fabulous, the dancers were all drilled to perfection.

Playing the lead role of Mack Sennett was Damian Marsh. Damian was excellent in this role. Confident and clear, with a strong singing voice Damian guided the audience through the narrative with ease. He was charming, charismatic, selfish, and ruthless, he was a movie mogul. The audience loved his performance and cheered heartily during the walkdown. This was a polished performance and his rendition of ‘I Won’t Send Roses’ was simply lovely.

Cathryn Osborne played Mabel Normand. Cathryn had undeniable stage presence, her character was loud and brash, her Brooklyn accent was terrific and could be heard clearly. Cathyrn was slapstick, as her character required, she was witty and fun, but she also showed us a vulnerable side to Mabel, her death scene sad and poignant. Cathryn had a powerful singing voice with an expansive vocal range, her songs were full of emotion and character. Cathryn was a pleasure to watch.

Amy Riley played Lottie Ames, an actor, dancer, and friend of Mack Sennett. Amy was well cast in this role; she was feisty and effervescent. She led the routine ‘Tap Your Troubles Away.’ This was a glorious homage to old Hollywood routines, full of energy and glamour, to which Amy also sang. A marvellous performance.

Actor and want to be scriptwriter Frank Capra, was played by Karl Pilkington. Karl was well cast in this role. His accent was strong and clear, his character complex. Frank’s script for Mabel an undertone throughout the show. Karl was confident and gave an admirable performance.

Trevor Lord played the infamous ‘Fatty’ Arbuckle. Trevor was larger than life if you will excuse the pun. Full of energy and with an impressive laugh Trevor was an audience favourite. Angela Schofield was Mack’s pianist Ella. Angela gave a feisty, no-nonsense performance, very much in keeping with her character. Stevan Manley, played Mr Kleimann, and David Smith played Mr Fox, Mack’s accountants. Together with Mack they performed ‘Hit ‘Em on The Head,’ a witty, fast paced song. A super performance from this duo. Matt Whatley was convincing as William Desmond-Taylor, a competing film director who promised Mabel the world, but instead got her hooked-on drugs. Two other actors to mention are Ashley Brennand and Jason Morris, who gave a solid performance as Freddie and Andy. I would dearly love to mention everyone involved, but unfortunately, I cannot. The ensemble was energetic and animated when the stage was full it looked well-coordinated and lively.

Sound, provided by Marcus Whittaker was of the highest quality with no feedback or mic dropouts, diction and vocals could be heard clearly throughout the show. Alice Birt and Adam Horsfield created some lovely lighting effects, especially during the ‘Keystone’ scenes and spots were used to highlight and draw the eye when necessary. I cannot finish the review without saying how fabulous all the costumes were, wardrobe by Pauline Pilkington and the Pendle Hippodrome Theatre, with hired outfits from Triple C’s Costume Hire, looked sensational.

I would like to say a special thanks to Stevan Manley for looking after me post show. The front of house team was very welcoming and knowledgeable about the theatre’s history, and it was a pleasure to meet you all. Thankyou for inviting me to review Mack and Mabel, I look forward to seeing you at your next production.