Singin’ in the Rain – The Mill at Sonning, Reading

Screenplay: Betty Comden and Adolph Green

Director: Joseph Pitcher

Reviewer: Maryam Philpott

“We didn’t need dialogue, we had faces” declares Norma Desmond in the movie Sunset Boulevard as she decries the end of the silent era, but in the 1920s times were changing. When the talkies arrived cinema never looked back and “faces” were no longer enough. The greatest movie musical of all time captures this revolution better than anything else and now a new stage production of Singin’ in the Rain comes to the Mill at Sonning for an extended Christmas run.

Don Lockwood and Lina Lamont are major stars of the silent silver screen, but when a demonstration of talking pictures at an after-party leads to a sensation, Monumental Pictures are racing to catch-up, the only problem is Lina. When Don falls in love with wannabe actress Kathy Selden, suddenly all his problems are solved, but can their relationship survive Hollywood?

Joseph Pitcher’s new production is a charming festive treat for anyone looking for an alternative to panto, filled with the sparkle and bustle of a busy studio on the cusp of revolutionary change. The pace and tone are well managed by Pitcher who pays homage to Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly’s original film while claiming the numbers and story for the stage.

The insertion of slightly over-lengthy but high quality excerpts from Lockwood and Lamont pictures, filmed externally and projected onto the rear wall, nod to its classic movie base while recognising this production as a theatrical translation of a film about the making of films, one that balances the audience’s pre-knowledge and expectation of this much-loved story with its standalone value as a theatre experience.

We forget just how much of a complex dance musical Singin in the Rain really is, and aside from that famous street sequence, the movie is filled with exceptional set pieces. Here choreographer Ashley Nottingham has done a sterling job in retaining the spirit and signature moves from Kelly and Donen’s movie original while adapting and enhancing them for the Mill auditorium. The tap routine for ‘Moses Supposes’ and ‘Fit as a Fiddle’ are terrific, while the change of style in the fantasy ‘Broadway Melody’ sequence uses jazz choreography full of lithe and languid phraseology, beautifully styled by Natalie Titchener’s costume design and Jamie Platt’s lighting.

Filling Gene Kelly’s onscreen shoes is a huge weight on any performer, but Philip Bertioli wears it lightly as he glides effortlessly through this hugely demanding role. Bertioli captures the charm and arrogance of Don but uses the dancing to impose his own performance style and interpretation of the character. He is so sharp all the way through these energetic routines, delighting in every moment of this iconic show and gleefully splashing the front row during a charming rendition of the title song. Kelly is a tough act to follow but Bertioli delivers a West End-quality performance that stands on its own.

Rebecca Jayne-Davies is a far more assertive Kathy Selden than Debbie Reynolds, making her an interesting match for Don in the early scenes, while Davies proves equally adept at the song and dance aspects. Sammy Kelly has lots of fun as the exaggerated Lina Lamont, although the voice and manner feel a little forced, and while Brendan Cull doesn’t quite hit the mark in the breathless ‘Make ‘em Laugh’ scene, he makes up for it with some great synchronised tap later on.

For a very small company, the supporting cast do an excellent job of filling the stage with activity and series of extremely well-executed dance numbers. There are a few odd decisions including the inclusion of Kathy in the ‘Broadway Melody’ sequence which confuses the Dancing Cavalier movie plot with the main story and a throwaway #MeToo moment between studio boss R F Simpson and Kathy comes to nothing, but this production of Singin’ in the Rain is a joy-filled experience that will make you glad that cinema learned to talk.

Runs Until: 8 February 2019 | Image: Andreas Lambis

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The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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