Mack and Mabel, Criterion, London

Slap that drum when you're mad at your man
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The Independent Culture

Starring David Soul and Janie Dee, this musical by Jerry Herman sees showbiz blowing its own trumpet in a quirkier fashion than is the norm.

The director John Doyle - whose previous hit, Sweeney Todd, went on from Newbury's Watermill Theatre to thrill Broadway - specialises in multi-tasking ensembles. So his cast don't just act, sing and dance, they also double as their own DIY orchestra. Thus, in this loosely biographical Hollywood tragi-comedy about the troubled romance between the 1920s silent-screen director Mack Sennett and his star Mabel Normand, the movie-making extras roll antique cameras and prop baskets about whilst exuberantly tooting on saxophones, trombones and trumpet.

I'd rather see this than many a splashier production. However, it should be pointed out that the stage is so cramped that the choreography is minimal. It's also hard to give a hoot when Herman keeps ditching the love story to let Sennett bang on about the history of cinema with projected snippets of the Keystone Kops. The gravelly-voiced Soul contrives to exude sorrowful weariness and surging nostalgic enthusiasm and Dee is bubbly and pert, sometimes irritatingly milking the sentimentality, but also playfully inventive with percussive instruments, using a rattle as a pepper grinder and slapping a passing drum when she's mad at her man.

To 22 July, 020 7413 1437

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