The Internet Theater Magazine of Reviews, Features, Annotated Listings








Etcetera and
Short Term Listings


NYC Restaurants


New Jersey







Free Updates
Writing for Us
A CurtainUp London London Review
Mack and Mabel

by Sebastian King

"What are you gonna do five years from now when they're tired of talkies, what are you gonna give 'em then? Colours? Or a new sized screen? Or bare butts and dirty words? Go on try all the tricks you can think of, it's still not gonna be worth one reel of Birth of a Nation, not one frame of Chaplin, not one eighth of a quarter of an inch of my Mabel." — Mack
Mack and Mabel
Laura Pitt-Pulford as Mabel
(Photo: Annabel Vere)
Jerry Herman’s Mack and Mabel has one of the composer’s finest scores — made famous by Torvill and Dean’s 1981 routine to the overture—but the show has never been a hit on the scale of Hello Dolly!, Mame or La Cage Aux Folles. Following the success of last year’s Parade, producer Danielle Tarento and director Thom Southerland return to Southwark Playhouse, to try and set the record straight once and for all.

The story of Mabel Normand (Laura Pitt-Pulford), whose ascent from New York waitress to comic star of silent movies, having been taken under the wing of legendary director Mack Sennett (Norman Bowman), is the stuff of Hollywood legend. Her complex romantic entanglement with Mack, along with his refusal to alter his once-successful film-making formula, led to Mabel’s increasing dependency on alcohol and drugs, and she died from tuberculosis at the age of 37. Herman and book writer Michael Stewart play fast-and-loose with the facts, but their resulting show is at its heart a tragic love story and love-letter to the Golden Age of Hollywood.

Thanks to Jason Denvir’s design and Howard Hudson’s creative lighting, Southwark Playhouse’s Vault has been converted into a believable and atmospheric Hollywood film studio. Sound Designer Andrew Johnson has also solved the sound balance issues that have hindered productions in this space previously, by housing the ten-piece band off-stage. It’s a shame not to see them in action, but it’s a small price to pay for West End quality sound balance and clarity.

In fact there is nothing about this production that is not ‘West End quality’. The cast sing, dance and act flawlessly, with standout supporting performances from the beautifully-voiced Stuart Matthew Price as Frank, and Jessica Martin as Lottie Ames. Martin, who took over from Caroline O’ Connor as Mabel in the show’s original West End production leads the stonking Act II tap-routine ‘Tap Your Troubles Away’. As the dictatorial Mack, Norman Bowman finds shades of humanity and a certain amount of dashing charm, his warm baritone soaring through the anti- love song ‘I Won’t Send Roses’, and final ballad ‘Happy Ending’.

Gifted with the best songs, it is Laura Pitt-Pulford as the feisty but flawed Mabel who really shines. Her punchy opening number ‘Look What Happened to Mabel’ is delivered with a mischievous spark whilst she ends Act 1 with grim determination to be ‘Wherever He Ain’t’, belting out the defiant number from the top of a staircase-on-wheels. The staircase makes another appearance as she performs one of the best written torch songs of all time ‘Time Heals Everything’ with a heart-breaking desperation.

In the programme notes, Southerland writes that this production is something of a labour of love, and this comes across in his staging, which is full of creativity and subtlety. I particularly enjoyed the film sequences imaginatively choreographed by Lee Proud: when Mack is directing, he and the camera are always centre stage, with the actors confined to the corners, but when Frank takes over as director, he places the actors centre stage and moves downstage. It’s a nice touch, which seems to reflect Southerland’s own intention to present a show that he loves in the best possible light. With this pitch-perfect production, there is no doubt that he has most definitely succeeded.

Subscribe to our FREE email updates with a note from editor Elyse Sommer about additions to the website -- with main page hot links to the latest features posted at our numerous locations. To subscribe, E-mail:
put SUBSCRIBE CURTAINUP EMAIL UPDATE in the subject line and your full name and email address in the body of the message -- if you can spare a minute, tell us how you came to CurtainUp and from what part of the country.
Mack and Mabel
Music and Lyrics by Jerry Herman
Book by Michael Stewart, revised by Francine Pascal
Directed by Thom Southerland

Starring: Norman Bowman, Laura Pitt-Pulford, Jessica Martin, Stuart Matthew Price, Steven Serlin
With: Richard J Hunt, Jody Ellen Robinson, Anthony Wise, Peter Kenworthy, Jessica Buckby, Ryan Gover, Paul Hutton, Natalie Kent, Jonathan Norman, Nikki Schofield
Designed by Jason Denvir
Lighting: Howard Hudson
Musical Supervisor: Iain Vince-Gatt
Musical Director: Michael Bradley
Sound Designer: Andrew Johnson
Choreography: Lee Proud
Running time: 2 hours 45 minutes including interval
Box Office:  0207 407 0234
Booking to 25th August 2012
Reviewed by Sebastian King based on 11th July performance at The Vault, Southwark Playhouse, Shipwright Yard, Tooley Street, SE1 2TF (Tube: London Bridge)

Highlight one of the responses below and click "copy" or"CTRL+C"
  • I agree with the review of Mack and Mabel
  • I disagree with the review of Mack and Mabel
  • The review made me eager to see Mack and Mabel
Click on the address link E-mail:
Paste the highlighted text into the subject line (CTRL+ V):

Feel free to add detailed comments in the body of the email . . . also the names and emails of any friends to whom you'd like us to forward a copy of this review.

London Theatre Walks

Peter Ackroyd's  History of London: The Biography

London Sketchbook

tales from shakespeare
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
Click image to buy.
Our Review

©Copyright 2012, Elyse Sommer.
Information from this site may not be reproduced in print or online without specific permission from