Theatre Review: Singing' In The Rain

Rating: 4

By Richard Barber

The 1952 film starring and co-directed by Gene Kelly, with Donald O’Connor and Debbie Reynolds, was a smash hit. There was a much-admired stage version at Chichester a couple of years back which found its way into the West End. That same production will enjoy a season at Sadler’s Wells at the end of July.

Now, the enterprising Mill at Sonning has mounted its own version, deftly directed by Joseph Pitcher, and it’s a lovely dollop of escapism.

As if you needed telling, the story turns on the end of silent movies as the talkies take the world by storm spearheaded by The Jazz Singer.

At Monumental Studios, the money-hungry boss, RF Simpson (a cigar-chomping Russell Wilcox), immediately decides that his next silent movie, The Dueling Cavalier, should be converted into a talkie entitled The Dancing Cavalier, a vehicle for his two biggest names, Don Lockwood and Lina Lamont.

So far, so good. But then Lina opens her mouth and the sound that comes out is like nothing so much as a demented buzz-saw.

By happy chance, Don bumps into ingénue actress, Kathy Selden, who can act and sing and dance like a dream. Why not dub Kathy’s voice, it is subsequently decided, and match it to Lina’s lip movements? It’s the perfect solution until an insanely jealous Lina tries to blackmail the studio into dispensing with Kathy after just one movie.

Desperate times demand desperate measures. After the gala premiere of The Dancing Cavalier, the crowd bays for Lina to sing them a song. RF finally agrees but only if Kathy is behind a curtain doing the actual singing. And then, mid-song, he winds back the drape to reveal the real star of the show.

Sammy Kelly has a ball playing the spiteful, talentless Lina. Rebecca Jayne-Davies is sweetly effective as the all-singing, all-dancing Kathy. Brendan Cull as Don’s sidekick, Cosmo Brown, is the perfect fall-guy. But it is Philip Bertioli as Don who steals the show with a velvety tenor voice and the acting and dancing chops amply to fill his role as leading man. And don’t worry about getting splashed in the show’s title song: the front row audience is issued with plastic sheets.

The Mill is the UK’s only theatre restaurant, the £60 ticket buying you a substantial meal as well as your seat in the pretty, crescent-shaped auditorium.

Run by artistic director Sally Hughes, it sits on an island in the Thames not far from Henley. As a bonus, it also boasts rather famous next-door neighbours: Amal and George Clooney, no less.

Singin’ In The Rain runs at The Mill until 8 February. Box office: 0118 969 8000 or www.millatsonning.com

 

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