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The Community of Hungerford Theatre Company - Mack and Mabel

15th to 18th February 2017.

Review from the Newbury Weekly News.

Town Show takes off to Tinsel Town

Mack and Mabel goes back to the silent movie era

Community of Hungerford Theatre Company, Mack & Mabel, at John O'Gaunt School, Hungerford, from Wednesday, February 15 to Saturday, February 18

The Community of Hungerford Theatre Company is in every sense a true 'community', bringing together townsfolk from the age of eight to senior citizens to produce the annual Town Show. There are no auditions and a large cast joins forces with a vast army of backstage crew and helpers to successfully create this enjoyable production.

It's a challenging undertaking and for this, their 38th show, they performed Michael Stewart and Jerry Herman's 1974 musical Mack and Mabel.

This poignant love story is based on the true-life romance between silent film director Mack Sennett and his rising starlet Mabel Normand.

It is told in flashback from Mack's viewpoint, with a sterling performance by Neil Padgen in the title role, who seldom left the stage and performed with brio.

Charlotte Shanahan was splendid as the likeable young delicatessen worker Mabel Normand, catapulted to stardom and appearing in Mack's highly successful "two reelers".

These classic silent films featured dashing heroes, dastardly villains, beautiful bathing belles and the comic Keystone Cops.

Following this success, the company moved to larger studios in Los Angeles and, while on the train journey, Mabel falls in love with Mack – but he doesn't reciprocate, as he sings I Won't Send Roses.

The dawn of the 'talkies' is now with us, but Mack still wants to keep his style of comedy on the silver screen, although Mabel is becoming more frustrated with his directing technique of counting – "One: pick up plate, two: walk across the floor, three: smash plate on actor's face" – which is hilariously shown in a great slapstick scene and song I Want to Make the World Laugh. She desperately wants to perform in more serious drama and is seduced by a rival filmmaker, William Desmond Taylor (Terry Brooks), with some disastrous consequences.

This was very much an ensemble production from a large hard-working cast (too many to name individually), who energetically embraced the characters with confidence.

There was much to enjoy in this entertaining musical, including a Keystone Cops chase, an impressive tap dance scene with the song Tap Your Troubles Away assuredly led by Lottie Ames (Julie Gower).

The ending is truly sad, as Mabel falls from favour and resorts to alcohol and drugs, and Mack sings I Promise You a Happy Ending.

David Clayton skilfully directed this ambitious production, with the orchestra conducted by Jo Pollin, and the whole company deserved the audience's enthusiastic applause.