Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Mack & Mabel - at the Southwark Playhouse

FOR an evening of great musical theatre forget the West End and head instead to the Southwark Playhouse.
This two-auditorium theatre just off Tooley Street has a well-deserved reputation for putting on amazing productions that would rival any West End show, and at a fraction of the price.
The current offering in the atmospheric setting of its space the Vault is Mack & Mabel directed by Thom Southerland.
It tells the story of the tumultuous romantic relationship between Hollywood director Mack Sennett (played by Norman Bowman) and Mabel Normand (Laura Pitt-Pulford), a waitress from Brooklyn, New York, who he turned into one of his biggest stars.
The audience is taken back to their first meeting in the 1920s and then through the glory days of Sennett’s Keystone Studios with Mabel starring in dozens of his two-reelers, the creation of his Bathing Beauties and the Keystone Cops and finally to Mabel’s early death from a drug overdose.
We also see how the arrogant and tyrannical Sennett, with single-minded determination resists the winds of change which are happening in his industry, desperately clinging to his silent two-reelers while all the other Hollywood studios are embracing the talkies.
It is this resistance that costs him dear – losing him money, his reputation and ultimately his relationship with Mabel who is poached by a rival studio.
With a spectacular score including “Look What Happened To Mabel” and “I Won’t Send Roses” Mack & Mabel is a touching and ultimately heart-breaking story.
The whole cast is excellent and the dance routines of the Bathing Beauties and Keystone Cops are so energetic, fun and entertaining it was a real thrill to watch.
But it was Bowman and Pill-Pulford as the two stars who stood out, with tremendous voices and brilliantly showed off the tensions, hopes, expectations and sadness of their characters.

Mack and Mabel is on at the Southwark Playhouse until August 25.
Tickets from £10. Call the box office on 020 7407 0234

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Jenny Eclair

Last week I was lucky enough to interview Jenny Eclair for a piece in the paper.... My chat coincided with the launch of her new novel "Life, Death and Vanilla Slices" (a good read and thoroughly recommended though don't expect it to be a comedy) which is published today. 

I MUST admit to being slightly nervous about the prospect of interviewing Jenny Eclair.
The self-confessed grumpy old woman with her trademark glasses is well known for her black humour, brilliantly sharp observations and devastating put downs.
However, it is clear when we speak that she is also full of joie de vivre with a predictably good line in filthy jokes and an infectious, if rather naughty, laugh.
Her CV is impressive by anyone's standards. She was the first woman to win the coveted Edinburgh Comedy Festival’s Perrier Award in 1995, has appeared in TV shows Holby City, The Bill, done a stint in panto and even competed in the 2010 UK series of I'm a celebrity... Get me Out Of Here coming third.
The 52-year-old author, writer, comedian, and more recently star of ITV1's Loose Women has seemingly done it all.
But it's her ruthless wit which has been at the forefront of her 30-year career.
She is currently promoting her new novel, Life, Death and Vanilla Slices which was published today (Thurs July 5).
Set in Lancashire and East Dulwich it is a compelling, funny, emotionally manipulative and heartbreaking drama which tells the story of mother and daughter, Jean and Anne, and how one fateful day changes their lives forever.
I tell her it was so absorbing I couldn’t put it down and read it from cover to cover in one day.
Laughing she says: "That was a bit greedy of you to devour it in one day! But thank you - I'm not that quick at coming up with ideas - I've only done three novels in 12 years which isn't very impressive is it! It took 18 months which is twice the length of time normal people write but I'm very pleased with it. It needed to be written."
When I ask her what she means by this she pauses before saying: “I explored a lot of subjects and relationships the characters have with each other that I relate to especially the relationship between a mother and daughter.
"There is a bit of me in all the main characters but especially Anne who is about the same age as me and going through all those hideous hormonal changes that happen to women.”
Beautifully observed, the book tackles dark and brutal subjects including rape and baby abandonment and features some quite awful characters.
She says: “I have always been quite graphic so it wasn't an issue for me to write those scenes and if you are a stand up you do have to deal with hecklers and rude comments.
“It's never been a problem for me to be rude or horrible - in fact, it's harder to be nice and funny!
"Also, I remember growing up reading about babies being found in telephone boxes. It's very much of my time and certainly wasn't unheard of.
“Back then it was very difficult to sort yourself out if it happened as people didn’t talk about these kinds of things.”
The fact it was set in places she knows well is also no co-incidence, hence Lancashire where she grew up and East Dulwich, which is “just down the road” from where she lives in Camberwell with her husband Geof Powell (who she affectionately calls St Geof) and their daughter Phoebe.
Unlike other celebrities who escape the city the minute they find fame, Jenny has embraced the area and has a deep fondness for it.
"It's great. I've been here 30 years and love it," she says emphatically.
"I moved from Lancashire to go to Camberwell Arts College and ended up in a council flat in Walworth Road before moving to Brunswick Villas, Camberwell Grove and now Grove Lane.
"It was more of a convenience thing as I do use the buses a lot and,” here she lowers her voice for added effect, “north London horrifies me and streets I don't know frighten me.
“Maybe I'm lazy but it's so convenient and I feel safe here. There are also some lovely independent and quirky shops and I prefer to be close to town.
“I travel a lot especially to Cornwall which I love but I’m always glad to be back in the thick of it. It suits us and it’s what I’m used to so I’ll never leave."
Her love of Camberwell meant she and Sir Geof were glued to the TV when the BBC showed its Secret Streets programme on Camberwell Grove last month.
"It coincided with our 30th anniversary so we sat on the sofa and got very nostalgic and sentimental!” she chuckles.
"It brought back a lot of memories and it was fascinating to see the social changes.
“It wasn't very nice back then and I don't remember it being quite so friendly and funky as they showed it to be - in fact I found it quite scary at times and somewhere you didn't go after dark but I was a punky girl and wouldn't let it scare me.
“I'm genuinely interested in the past and maybe I'll write something more historical one day.
“It might take me a while though. Books are more difficult to wrestle with than writing gags. It's like a great big octopus wriggling about on your lap and remembering what everyone does and is. But it’s what I do though and I'm not happy if I'm not writing.”
And with that she’s off to “write something for Radio 4” and for the new tour appropriately named Eclairious which starts in September.
"It's important I give my husband a break to be honest!" she laughs.

Life, Death and Vanilla Slices is out in paperback today published by Sphere and priced at £12.99
Visit www.jennyeclair.com for tour details.