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Posted by : Rod Dungate on May 26, 2005 - 07:11 PM Archive
Watermill: West Berkshire Playhouse - Until 9th July
Review: Stewart McGill, 25 May 2005

Not vintage, but some memorable numbers and a wonderful garden too

For anyone visiting the Watermill this summer, it really is worth going early to view the garden installation Flowery Meads, designed and created by Julieann Worrall Hood and garden designer, Nicholas Hood. Inspired by the 13th Century poem, Romance of the Rose by Guillaume de Lorris this fascinating floral design is evolving throughout the year in the theatre grounds.

In the theatre itself, John Doyle's individual approach to Music Theatre is on show again with a rare revival of Jerry Herman's Mack & Mabel. Lousy title but fascinating subject exploring the relationship between the undisputed King of Comedy in Hollywood's early years, Mack Sennett and Mabel Normand, considered to be one of the finest comediennes of the silents!

Whilst not a vintage musical it does have some memorable numbers and especially in Act 2 reveals the reality of being in the movies. Forget the bright lights and red carpet, Doyle gives us cocaine and the needle. Powerful, compelling and evocative in its staging. The designs by Mark Bailey create a cage like environment for the actor-musicians to recreate the story and a little mythology.

Sarah Travis again handles the musical arrangements and as with other shows in collaboration with Doyle they bring large-scale subjects into chamber perspective with a touch of genius.

Anna-Jane Casey is Mabel in a beautiful performance that perfectly charts her decline and fall. She is partnered by David Soul as Mack who is moving and convinces in his hidden heartbreak but is insecure in the numbers, although his Rose' theme is honestly delivered. The cast, as ever, with Doyle play, sing, act and dance with beautiful precision and in this production quite a few new faces emerge.

Watermill music theatre is always worth the visit and if this is not quite vintage it is still an evocative and memorable show, a real cut above most musicals on show right now.

Doyle's Sweeney Todd is about to go to Broadway and Ed Hall's The Winter's Tale goes international, taking the Watermill brand global. Jill Fraser was awarded the MBE recently for her work here as Artistic Director never was an honour more deserved.

Cast: Mabel: Anna-Jane Casey, Frank: Tomm Coles, Eddy: Robert Cousins, Gertie: Michelle Long, Mack: David Soul, Mr Bauman: Jon Trenchard, Andy: Simon Tuck, William Desmond Taylor: Stephen Watts, Lottie: Sarah Whittuck, Mr Kessel: Johnson Willis, Fatty: Matthew Woodyatt.

Creative Team: Director: John Doyle, Arrangements and Musical Supervisor: Sarah Travis, Designer: Mark Bailey, Lighting Designer: Richard G Jones, Sound Designer: Gary Dixon.
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