March 12, 2012

Singin' in the Rain, Palace Theatre

3 stars

Chichester Festival Theatre seems to be on a roll at the moment with glowing reviews and a plethora of London transfers. It is a credit to their Artistic Director, Jonathan Church, that this regional theatre is now in such a healthy state when many are struggling to pull in the audiences that are needed to keep the businesses afloat.

And it’s not hard to see why this production of Singin’ in the Rain has been hailed as such an unqualified triumph. Not only is its arrival timely with the Oscar-soaked film The Artist, which takes as its theme silent movies versus the Talkies, but it stays close to its screen buddy by not fully recognising itself as a stage show. It does exactly what the 1952 film of Singin’ in the Rain did, but cleverly makes it a bit more modern by being a little more in-yer-face. And, in many ways, it needs to because – in spite of some cracking numbers – the show, for want of a better word, can at times be a little bit wet.

Adam Cooper is undeniably a joy to watch as Don Lockwood, the famous silent movie star, and his classical ballet training brings a strength, grace and control to his dance sequences that (dare I say it) surpass even the sprightly Gene Kelly. The rain is funny, the front rows get very wet, and the classic numbers (‘Make ‘Em Laugh’, ‘Moses Supposes’ and ‘Good Morning’) are all very enjoyable.

But, that said, the production suffers from two things. Firstly, from its relative lack of imagination and reluctance to depart from what the film did so well. (I was alarmed that even potentially inoffensive departures hadn’t been embraced, such as the decision to make Lina Lamont’s voice coach a clone of the film’s, or not to have Lina be a fiery redhead, for instance, rather than the same peroxide blonde that we saw in the movie.) Because the production hasn’t carved out its own dramatic identity, replicas of sequences we know from the film can only really be inferior: real-life Cosmo sadly can’t run up the walls and ceiling, so he has to topple through a paper wall instead; the live ‘fit as a fiddle’ boy violinists by definition have to be a little less agile on the stage and so the virtuosic gymnastics never happen; and the rain, by nature, has to be operated by a machine, caught in a trough, and then drained out and mopped up.

Secondly, I felt that some of the show’s charm is cancelled out here by a tendency for over-acting. Lina Lamont (Katherine Kingsley)’s dialogue is often very drawn out and her voice doesn’t seem genetically bad enough to make it funny. Cathy Seldon (Scarlett Strallen) ups her game to keep up with her exaggerated fellow-principal to become rather shrill and neurotic herself, so at times you feel sorry for the sandwiched Don.

Nevertheless, there is no lack of gusto in this production, and the show signs off with a stylish sequence of the cast as Don Lockwood-lookalikes, sporting silver umbrellas with multi-coloured undersides, splashing in unanimous enthusiasm in the second shower of rain.

This show is ideal if you want a trip down memory lane but have seen enough of the film. Don’t go expecting anything wildly different or inventive, however, as you will be disappointed.

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