It is seven o’clock in the evening and Lifestyle is sat high above everyone else. We are looking down from the canopy above at the swathes of audience that file into the impressive space that is Chichester Festival Theatre. Surrounding the great hexagonal stage, are the reams of the enthused, young and old alike, lured in by a shared passion for unadulterated escapism. The room is quite literally abuzz, there is a gentle murmur that rises like the vibrations of a beautiful insect about to take off, helped along by the intermittent flutter of music that seems to infiltrate –but from where? This hive of activity is bathed in the haze of smoky air and blue lights, while the stage stands stark and grey, offering not even the tiniest hint as to what it is about to divulge.
As the lights slowly dim and the murmurs falls to a hush, the source of the sound is revealed. High above the stage stands a full brass band, conductor and all. With lights fixed firmly on them, in a golden light as brassy as their instruments, they play scores of melody that heighten the audience’s anticipation and transport them back in time to 1920s, when movies were silent and screen sirens tied to railway tracks.
Olivier Award- winner Michael Ball was in every way the star of the show. Showcasing that rare quality of voice that maintains the ability to provoke shivers. After the undeniable success of his 2011 run at Chichester Festival Theatre as Sweeny Todd, he has returned as the eponymous Mack Sennett, the writer, producer, owner and director of Keystone Motion Pictures Studio. But of all his ambitions and successes there remains one character he just can’t figure out: Mable Normand. Played by Chichester debut Rebecca LeChance, the enigmatic Mable embarks on a rollicking acting career, which sees both characters fall into a tumble dryer of successes and failures that are so synonymous with Hollywood fame.
In a performance described by The Daily Express as ‘a grand revival of a grand musical’ and ‘slick and stylish’ by the Evening Standard, Jonathan Church’s rendition of Mack and Mable is proving a whirl wind success. Lifestyle was blown away by the plays use of cinematic effects to create a performance that simultaneously celebrated two of the greatest acting mediums: the silver screen and the stage. Treading the fine line between comedy and tragedy, a combination of quick changes, phenomenal dance moves and comedy moustaches blended seamlessly to take the play from the end to the beginning and back again.
As the lights came up and the visitors filed out into the cold embrace of evening, there still existed that buzz of the beginning. Only now theatre goers bonded over the scenes of the night. ‘How did she do that?’ and ‘Wasn’t his voice magnificent?’ The band might have finished playing but that brassy gold light was still shining beneath the street lamps. That smoky blue air could still be found in the sky as the clouds drifted over the face of the moon. And so all of those magical effects found in the experience of the theatre are revealed to one in the usually overlooked aspects of everyday life. It is clear why the audience was so excited that evening. The play might be over but show still goes on.