Kit Finnie: Mabel & Mickey

18/08/18

Underbelly (Belly Dancer), Edinburgh

While not exactly what you’d call a crowdpleaser, there’s always room on the Fringe for a show like Mabel & Mickey, an ambitious and quirky look at a story from the early days of Hollywood. Mabel Normand was one of the greatest stars of the silent era and something of an innovator at a time when few women were able to make inroads in the film industry. Many would say that not much has changed since then…

In 1915, Normand produced, directed and starred in a very successful movie called Mickey, which she made for Mack Sennet’s studio, Keystone. But her career was subsequently tainted, both by her association with fellow actor Roscoe ‘Fatty’ Arbuckle and his infamous rape trial – and by her mysterious relationship with film director William Desmond Taylor. The latter was murdered in 1922, just after he’d announced that he was to marry another woman. Normand was one of the key suspects and, though she was eventually acquitted, her career never recovered.

In this inventive monologue, Kit Finnie plays Mabel, who, when we first encounter her, is being interviewed by the police about Desmond’s murder. She occasionally breaks the illusion to talk with her tech person, reverting to her own accent and pointing out that she’s forgotten certain lines or that she needs to try something again – this is jarring, but then, it’s clearly meant to be. There’s also some nifty use of an OHP (retro tech equipment seems to be one of the recurring tropes of this year’s Fringe) used in conjunction with simple paper cutouts. Finnie even offers us the occasional bit of  poetry, which keeps winging its way onto the stage in the form of paper aeroplanes. Oh yes, and there’s quite a lot about pigeons too.

This is esoteric stuff that demands concentration, mostly because Normand’s story has largely slipped into the mists of time. Interested parties should seek out Karina Longworth’s excellent podcast You Must Remember This, which devotes a whole episode to Mabel Normand and makes a useful companion piece to this show.

This is an interesting attempt to do something a little bit different and really, that’s exactly what the Edinburgh Fringe is for.

4 stars

Philip Caveney

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