Team effort pulls off a great production

The last performance of Mack and Mabel is tonight, Saturday.
The last performance of Mack and Mabel is tonight, Saturday.

I have enjoyed several of Clitheroe Parish Church Amateur Operatic and Dramatic Society’s productions and I was keen to see Mack and Mabel, a musical I have not seen before.

Based on the early history of cinema, it follows the story of Mack Sennett, Mabel Normand and several other luminaries of the silent movie era. The structure involves Mack (Damian Marsh) looking back from 1938 over his early life and his meeting with Mabel (Rose Hurley) in 1911.

Mr Marsh holds the whole story together and acts as a kind of narrator and his earlier self, a performance of great strength and sympathy. The lighting effects (Paddy Keane and team) make it easy to follow the time differences.

Mabel (Rose Hurley) is an delightful heroine and I had to ensure that I spelt that correctly because the second half of the show centres on her descent into heroin addiction. This is, therefore, a funny, bouncy, but poignant musical. Even the first love song between the two is I Won’t Give You Roses, a kind of non-love song.

However, Mack Sennett is famous for his funny films (I Wanna Make The World Laugh) and there is much to make us smile. I particularly enjoyed the Keystone Cops dance Hit ’Em on The Head.

The greatest asset of CPCAODS is the vitality of the ensemble and Lindsay Pollard’s choreography scores a 10 again. There are some cleverly inventive routines and I was impressed by her skill in managing to get a large cast on a small stage to dance with such precision. Much of the credit must go to musical director Chris Andrews and his accomplished orchestra, spot-on for every nuance.

The supporting cast give great performances. Susan Chadwick and Lesley Howarth are the glamorous financial backers, Ms Baumann and Mrs Kessell. Sam Smith, Trevor Lord and Simon Thompson are part of the studio and Sennett’s team and Chris Bowers is William Desmond Taylor, the director who tempts Mabel away. Paul Heyes is Fatty Arbuckle, one of Sennett’s comic stars, who acts with Mabel. I was so intrigued I came home and googled him because my dad used to use his name as a joke. Now there is a story! It is part of the underlying irony of this musical, that all these silent superstars had secret lives and scandals. I was struck by Sennett’s bitter comments about the future of The Talkies, but he lived until 1960 so he must have seen what happened. I wonder what would he would have made of today’s CGI.

Spoiler alert! The ending is rather sad. I was amazed to learn that Frank, a moving performance from Tim Martin turned out to be Frank Capra. Christmas isn’t Christmas in our house without at least one viewing of It’s a Wonderful Life. And last, but not least I want to congratulate Erica Mileham as Lottie, another of Sennett’s stars. Tap your Troubles Away is one of the highlights.

I also admired the clever use of old film projection which really added to our understanding of the era. This is funny, custard pies in faces, and sad. Well done, the entire team, especially for inventive scenery and David Hulme’s direction. Please ask me back to see Calamity Jane next February. I am getting my stagecoach and whiplash ready!

Mack and Mabel is on stage at the St Mary’s Centre, Clitheroe, until tonight, Saturday.