Review: Mack and Mabel, Southwark Playhouse

“I’d be the first one to agree that I’m preoccupied with me”

Mack and Mabel reunites much of the creative team from last year’s very well received Parade at the Southwark Playhouse but sadly it also sees them go back into the same space of the Vault there. Despite its cavernous nature, it has become the default space for musicals at this London Bridge venue, although mystifyingly so as its first one – Company – was brilliantly played, unmiked, in the main house. To overcome the echoing acoustics of the Vault, shows tend to be heavily amplified and this has been something of a learning curve to say the least and for me undoes much of the point of going to see fringe musicals as it robs shows of the immediacy of hearing amazing voices up close and personal.

The show – book by Michael Stewart and revised by Francine Pascal – centres on the on-off relationship between Keystone Cops creator and silent film director Mack Sennett and the waitress he spotted, Mabel Normand, and turned into a star. Problem is, it isn’t a particularly gripping story, not even in its revised version, which tends towards a rather gloopy sentimentalisation, complete with annoying narration device, which never really addresses the fact that Mack is not someone you could imagine anyone ever giving the time of day to. Thom Southerland’s overlong production never really manages to overcome this deficiency in the story. Continue reading “Review: Mack and Mabel, Southwark Playhouse”

Review: Dames at Sea, Union

“So sweet and soft and gentle,
My favourite Oriental”

The Union Theatre have definitely identified their niche in London’s cluttered theatre landscape: small-scale revivals of musicals that might otherwise have languished in obscurity with productions that are big on ambition. The latest show to get the Union St treatment is Dames at Sea, a 1966 parody of 1930s musicals with book and lyrics by George Haimshon and Robin Miller and music by Jim Wise which much like The Drowsy Chaperone, grew from its beginnings as a short sketch into a full show.

Though it was entertaining enough, I couldn’t help but feel that this was the Union treading water rather than blowing our socks off with something great. The piece itself is a show about putting on a show – it feels like they all are at the moment! – the cast of a musical have to find a new venue as their theatre is being pulled down but the arrival of a ship full of sailors with connections to the chorus offers a solution. Stuffed full of clichés from the small-town girl arriving on Broadway with nothing but her dreams, the big diva who then feels threatened, the sailor who just happens to be an amazing songwriter, chance meetings with former partners a-plenty, the list goes on… Continue reading “Review: Dames at Sea, Union”

Review: Me & Juliet, Finborough

“The theatre is dying. No, the theatre is living”

One of the most annoying things about the transport network in this country is the fact that so much of the repair work and resulting closures take place at the weekend so that normal folk are vastly inconvenienced whilst the suits have their week-day travel protected. Whether it is national train services being replaced with coaches or TfL’s ever-ongoing programme of line closures and restricted services on both the underground and overground trains, it makes it extremely hard to make a reliable travel schedule. Which is a long-winded way for me getting round to saying that despite my best efforts, I only made it to the second half of Me & Juliet at the Finborough.

Consequently this is going to be more a collection of comments rather than a full-blown review, you should head over to Webcowgirl’s site to read the view of someone who arrived on time. This is actually the European premiere of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s show, continuing the Finborough’s exploration of the lesser known works from their canon, State Fair received its UK debut here last year subsequently transferring to the Trafalgar Studios 2 this summer. Continue reading “Review: Me & Juliet, Finborough”

Review: State Fair, Trafalgar Studios 2

“Our state fair is a great state fair, don’t miss it, don’t even be late”

Originally produced at the Finborough last summer in what was incredibly its UK stage premiere, Rodgers & Hammerstein’s State Fair makes a transfer to the small basement theatre of Trafalgar Studios. Partly recast and given a design refresh, it extended its run by a couple of weeks due to demand, meaning I finally got round to seeing it, having been on holiday for most of its run, both this year and last.

In the grand scheme of things, State Fair is a fairly simple play, it revolves around the Frakes, a rural farming family who journey to the three day Iowa State Fair to compete with their livestock and their condiments, and have a little fun too. It started life as a film with five Rodgers & Hammerstein songs in it, ‘It Might As Well Be Spring’ won them their only Oscar, but as it was developed into a musical in the late 90s, the score was substantially beefed up by the incorporation of a number of songs most of which had been cut from other R&H shows such as Oklahoma! and Pipe Dream. Continue reading “Review: State Fair, Trafalgar Studios 2”