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Posts Tagged ‘Lillian Gish’

This is more of a rediscovery than a revival, a 1980 musical which may well have remained lost but for the ever enterprising Finborough Theatre and Mercurius. Written by a man in late career, David Heneker, who’d done eight shows before, including Expresso Bongo, Half A Sixpence and Charlie Girl, and another, Warner Brown, in early career, it seems to have been a critical success but a commercial flop.

Like Jerry Herman’s Mack and Mabel, it’s set in the silent movie era and features real life characters like film-makers D W Griffith and Adolph Zukor of Paramount, actresses Mary Pickford and her friend Lillian Gish and the godfather of silent comedy, Mack Sennett. Over sixteen years, Griffith makes serious epics with Gish and Zukor populist fare with the eternally juvenile Pickford. As it ends, United Artists is born and talkies arrive. The personal relationships are interwoven with the history.

It’s a very good score and the book, in this scaled-down version, is excellent. They’ve reintroduced two songs that never made it to the West End, one which accuses Griffith of racism and the rather chirpier They Don’t Call ‘em Flickers too. MD Harry Haden-Brown plays the score alone on piano, which somehow suits the silent movie aesthetic. Jenny Eastop’s simple production, virtually without decor, allows the show to move and breathe.

I loved Matthew Cavendish’s Sennett, all his work with Mischief Theatre giving him great physical comedy skills, but a great voice too. Sophie Linder-Lee is a delight as Mary Pickford, who’s much more savvy than the girliness would have you believe. Emily Langham’s performance as the more serious and restrained Lillian Gish (who apparently attended the 1980 premiere), somewhat in awe of Griffith, is lovely too. Jonathan Leinmuller has great presence as Griffith, and there are five fine supporting performances, with the MD stepping forward to play a role.

A very worthwhile rediscovery given a fine production. Yet more gold stars for the Finborough.

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