- Dates: 29th January – 2nd February 2008
- Venue: Gala Theatre
- Director: Fred Wharton
- Musical Director: Paul Wood
- Choreographer: Kathleen Knox & Janet Dixon
It’s 1928, and the director Mack Sennett, king of the silent comic film, has come back to his old studio. But it’s all changed; now they’re shooting a talkie. And talkies, according to Sennett, are nothing but “some joker with a Victrola back of the screen” – just tricks and not worth “one eighth of a quarter of an inch of my Mabel”. Mabel Normand, silent film actress, is the woman Sennett loved – indeed, still loves.
Now she’s gone, and he knows she’s in trouble. But it’s not the kind of trouble one of his big Sennett finishes can solve. Besides, times are different now and they don’t make happy endings any more. “But what do they know about making movies?” he asks. “Not a goddam thing!” (Movies Were Movies)
On those memories, we go back to the better days of 1911, when it all began. Sennett is shooting a two-reeler melodrama with Lotte Ames, when six henchmen from the creditors burst in and start closing down the set. Right into the middle of this mayhem walks Mabel, the kid from the deli, with lunch orders – and she’s not leaving without her 15 cents. Chaos turns into comic madness, all of it caught on film. Everyone breaks up laughing, debts are forgotten – a star is born. (Look What Happened to Mabel)
Sixty two-reelers later, and Sennett and company have outgrown their little Brooklyn studio. They need “more space, sunshine, room to spread out!” Which means only one thing – California! (Big Time)
On the way out west, the train stops briefly in the middle of the desert. Mack finds Mabel alone on the observation platform, and the sight of her stirs something inside him. But he’s not going to let anything happen. They talk, and he tells her about his tough beginnings and the way he’s survived: “stay on the move, keep running and if it isn’t about making movies, forget it!” But Mabel likes him – maybe too much. That’s OK by Mack as long as she knows the rules. (I Won’t Send Roses) She does, and reprises his song. (So Who Needs Roses)
At last they’re in Hollywood. Kleinman and Fox, Sennett’s backers, want him to make big epics; but Mack has his own style. (I Wanna Make the World Laugh) And he’s right. Things are going great: he and his star are a team and have never been happier. (Mack & Mabel) Until, that is, Mabel, prodded by the writer Frank, decides that her “integrity as an artist” is being compromised. Mack explodes: “You got where you are because I counted for you! One you walk, two three you turn, four five…” And on his instruction she does turn, picks up a custard pie, and shoves it right in his face. In a beat he throws one back at her. Everyone then joins in the custard pie mêlée that has since come to epitomise comic chaos. (I Wanna Make the World Laugh).
At a Hollywood party in her honour, Mabel meets the famous director William Desmond Taylor, who wants to make a film with her. Mack feels threatened, but instead of telling Mabel the truth – that he’s jealous – he attacks her until she has no choice but to walk out. (Wherever He Ain’t) “And like all the other things I didn’t do with Mabel” he doesn’t stop her. It hurts, but he lets her go. Then master moviemaker that he is, he throws himself into a new idea: Sennett’s Bathing Beauties. (Hundreds of Girls)
Act Two opens on the years Mabel is away. We watch her on screen in one bad movie after another. Finally Mack can stand it no longer. “Taylor is ruining her!” He badly wants her back, but it’s tough for him to ask. She makes it easy, however, and in the quiet of one early morning comes back to Mack’s studio. One by one the crew greets her and soon everyone, including Mack, is joyously joining in. (When Mabel Comes in the Room)
But Mack is Mack, and when he starts shooting Mabel’s new movie, he gets sidetracked by his newest discovery – the Keystone Kops. (Hit ‘em on the Head) Meanwhile, Mabel is waiting patiently in her dressing room. Finally, after weeks of waiting, she just gets up and leaves. By the time Mack realises he has lost her again, the despairing Mabel has gone back to Taylor and is about to sail for Europe. This time Mack is not going to let her get away. But he can’t stop her, as he’s still not ready to make that commitment and she knows it. She’s talking about life but he’s talking about movies. Heartbroken, she is left alone on the deck as the boat pulls out. (Time Heals Everything)
Years pass. Years without Mabel: years that see the silent movie days draw to a close. Mack’s people are all leaving him. Lottie, the last to go, dances her way into the Vitagraph Varieties. (Tap Your Troubles Away) Suddenly, as she taps, gunshots ring out behind her and the stage fills with flashing headlines, news bulletins, shouts from newsboys: “William Desmond Taylor murdered! Mabel Normand’s lover shot dead!”
Mabel’s career is over. “Hey kid.” Mack shouts to the darkness. “Don’t let them make you quit. That’s like dying!” But it looks like nothing and no one can save Mabel. Frank, who was there from the beginning, tells Mack how the booze and the drugs started: “Right here,” he says, “Trying to keep up with a Mack Sennett schedule.” In a fury Mack throws him out.
Now we are back in the present, 1928, and in the old studio. A lifetime has passed. Mack stands there alone, understanding at last that the time has come to stop running. He must turn around and fight for Mabel. He’s determined to make another movie and Mabel Normand is going to be his star. She breaks down in tears declaring that she can’t do it. “Can’t, your backside, you no-talent waitress! As long as you’re working for Mack Sennett, you’ll do as you’re told. One, you turn! Two, you wipe your eyes! Three, you smile!” And smile she does, as he takes her in his arms declaring, “I need you”. (I Promise You a Happy Ending)
- Mack Sennett – Anthony Smith
- Mabel Normand – Delia McNally
- Roscoe ‘Fatty’ Arbuckle – Graeme Walton
- Lottie Ames – Sarah Jackson
- William Desmond Taylor – Clark Adamson
- Ella – Helen Harries
- Adam Kessel – Olly Burton
- Charles Bauman – Rob Sweeney
- Frank Capra – David O’Donnell
- Andy – Nicky Tones
- Watchman – Paul Maddison
Morven Adey, Alan Ball, Alison Banks, Denise Beckford, Rob Berry, Hazel Bone, Sarah Brennan, Liz Cairns, Peter Clapham, Liz Clapham, Doreen Cothey, John Cuckson, Brian Davison, Anthony Dixon, Janet Dixon, Mike Dixon, Rebecca Turner, Christine Dobbie, Catherine Finn, Rob Gair, Karen Gallagher, Keith Gallagher, Jonathon Gilderoy, Rebecca Grundy, Bill Harland, Hazel Harle, Stephanie Hitch, Michelle Hood, Geoff Knott, Mike Langthorne, Catherine Lawes, Kirsty Lunn, Carol Mahoney, Catherine Marsden, Heather McLoughlin, Zoe Neasham, Sue Robinson, Derek Smith, Graham Sneddon, Lauren Stones, Diane Sweeney, Bev Thompson, Emily Thompson,Kate Thompson, Pat Walker, Katy Walton, Ian Wells, Emily Wright
Abigail Bowman, Emily Bowman, Jess Colman, Rachael Hanby, Jennifer Harrison, Ashley Latham, Sara McDermott, Jessica Ohlson, Ashleigh Sawyer, Emma Thursby
Paige and Grace
- Violins – Julia Boulton, Vince Flemming & Erato Evans
- Viola – Jonathan Rutter
- Cello – Peter Richardson
- Double Bass – Tony Abell
- Reeds – Catherine Freeman, Julie Dorr, Norman Moore, & Jackie Catchpole
- Horn – Chris Senior
- Trumpets – Alex Lewis, Gordon Marshall & Dave Hignett
- Percussion – Malcolm Dicks & Andy Booth
- Trombones – John Flood & Alan Bravey
- Keyboards – Steven Hood & Martin Dack
- Guitar / Banjo – Matin Wright
Michael Hinks – President of the National Operatic and Dramatic Association – Published in the Durham Times – 8th February 2008
THIS musical is based on the early history of the silent movie industry, and the love story between director Mack Stennett and his star, Mabel Normand.
The show has been around since 1972, and I have seen it many times. However, Durham Musical Theatre Company was privileged to present the UK amateur première of the 2002 version, revised by Francine Pascal, and it was just great in every respect.
First came a cracking overture by a very good orchestra, with Jerry Herman’s score splendidly directed by Paul Wood, and lovely dancing, well choreographed by Kathleen Knox and Janet Dixon. It was great to see tap introduced and even ballet en pointe – most unusual these days.
Sarah Jackson made a delightful Lottie. It was unbelievably her first role, making one certain we will see a great deal more of this young performer in future.
Graham Walton, as Fatty Arbuckle, gained most of the laughs, particularly in the Keystone Cops and custard pie-throwing scenes.
The strength of this production, directed by Fred Wharton, was in its covering of the minor roles.
However, the show depends on the strength of the leads, and Delia McNally, small in figure, huge in voice and projection, gave a very polished, sincere and totally credible performance as Mabel, while Anthony Smith was electric in style, personality and conviction – I have nothing but praise and admiration for the way he carried off the part of Mack.
In every aspect, this was a night of great theatre. The updated version is so very refreshing, concentrating as it does on a much kinder Mack.
The City of Durham should be proud of this excellent company, celebrating its 100th year, which I wish all success in the future.