Mack and Mabel (Chichester Festival Theatre)
Life is full of disappointments. Such as when you are in the theatre and you queue for ages to get a ginger ice cream only to find they only have coffee flavour left. Or the time when I was young and got taken for a day out to see a zebra crossing – and there wasn’t even a zebra! I’d even have been content to see a pony, but there was just this black and white thing painted on the road.
Mack and Mabel started out as an amazing ice dance routine by the famous British husband and wife ice skating duo Torvill and Dean and has been worked up into a musical by the legendary Jerry Herman and Michael Stewart (who famously wrote the musical Hello Dolly, though I am not sure if that was based on a dance routine) – but it’s a crushing disappointment to see not one minute of ice dancing in the show!
It was a bitter blow for me. I had taken a giant bucket of confetti and streamers to throw at the stage, just as I had done all those years ago when Jayne and Chris won the European Championships title in Lyon, France. For some strange reason I had been escorted out of the building on that occasion, but I was sure the audience would rally round and applaud my enthusiasm at Chichester – but it was not to be.
So we had to content ourselves with Michael Ball, probably best known for coming second in the 1992 Eurovision Song Contest, playing Mack Sennett, who was someone important in the early days of Hollywood film-making. In those days films were silent, so nobody had to learn any lines: I’ve seen a few actors in stage plays forgetting their lines, so perhaps they should have tried appearing in silent movies or Hollyoaks. Michael Ball was really good, even though he didn’t look a bit like he did when he played Sweeney Todd, the demon barbershop quartet, and he didn’t sing Love Changes Everything either, which was another disappointment. He did sing I Won’t Send Roses, which was a coincidence as I had a small box of Roses chocolates with me. I particularly enjoyed the Golden Barrel and the Hazel Whirl, though I have never been a huge fan of Brazilian Darkness, so threw some on to the stage during one of the big tap numbers in case the dancers needed a sugar boost. I don’t like the new wrappers, I must say, but you could probably use them to make a nice collage afterwards.
Playing his love interest Mabel Normand was the lovely Rebecca LaChance, who is American, but that didn’t stop her being very good and I can only hope she didn’t get lost backstage or indeed in Chichester itself, like I did. I was looking for one or two shops that aren’t there anymore and I was forced to resort to Poundland in East Street for a bag of Ruffles. I felt sad for Mabel as Mack shouted at her a couple of times and she turned to drugs before going off on a ship with Paris Hilton.
Anna-Jane Casey is someone I have mentioned before in reviews, so I won’t mention her again here, but she was very good nonetheless. Also strong in their roles were Gunnar Cauthery as Frank (I still remember him fondly as a regular in the TV series The Demon Headmaster though he was very young then and as it’s nearly 20 years later he must be older than he looks) and Jack Edwards as Fatty Arbuckle, though strangely there was no reference to the scandal surrounding his arrest and trial for the murder of a young actress in the 1920s, which could have made for a bright and breezy tap number in itself.
Choreographer Stephen Mear really pulled out all the stops in the big dance numbers, such as Tap Your Troubles Away (cheerily sung when Mabel was at her lowest point, so I think there was a moral here, though as I had a Roses Caramel stuck in my teeth at that point I may have missed something important).
Director Jonathan Church has directed some amazing productions during his time as artistic director at Chichester and this is no exception though I would still like to ask him why he cut all references to Torvill and Dean, which ruined the evening for me (almost as bad as the lights going out in a production of Black Coffee I saw last year starring Robert Powell, who played Jesus on TV, though that play did not contain any big dance numbers. Thinking about it they could have played Bolero, which is mysterious and might have added to the atmosphere in a murder mystery play, and which of course was also danced to in an ice routine by Torvill and Dean).
In many ways it’s just as well that Dancing on Ice has finished on television, because this upset me so much I probably wouldn’t have been able to watch it again. Ah well, as the song goes, Time Heals Everything and perhaps if Torvill and Dean went along to see Mack and Mabel they might not want to sue the pants off the writers and production team for erasing one of their glorious moments from showbusiness history. Not such a happy ending for Jayne and Chris, but I’ll definitely be sending Roses to the company to celebrate this latest success for Chichester – probably minus the Tangy Orange Cremes because I’m just in the mood for those now.