This article first appeared on The Oxford Student website on 28 October 2015.
There are two things that any British production of Singin’ in the Rain needs to do in order to succeed. The first is, like any production, to nail the song from which the film takes its name. The other is to not have the American accents sound completely awful. Judging by the preview, this production looks to have done a near-flawless job at both. Exciting, charming and infectiously upbeat, this hugely ambitious student production looks set to be a belter of a play.
Based on the classic 1952 film starring Gene Kelly and Debbie Reynolds, the play follows silent movie star Don Lockwood in the late 1920s, as the film industry moves from the silent era to the age of talkies. On the way there are friends, lovers, harassed executives and overlooked musicians to deal with. And at one point Don is forced to perform despite a bit of rough weather.
If I had to describe the production, based on the preview I saw, in one word, it would be confident. Everyone involved is absolutely committed to what they’re doing, and the actors throw themselves into their performances with gusto. This play is a wilful throwback, and it’s done without the eye-rolling ironic detachment which characterises too much student drama. This is a production which believes wholeheartedly in the consciously retro image it’s selling, and if you can buy into it too then you’re in for a treat.
Of course, a good cast helps. James Hyde is fantastic as Don, switching effortlessly between deadpan straight man and iconic lead, his quietly understated style making the play’s most iconic number feel fresh and new all over again. Kathryn Peacock is charismatic and charming as Kathy Selden, boasting the best singing voice of a seriously talented cast. Niall Docherty delivers great comic relief, putting in a compulsively watchable physical performance, particularly appropriate for a play about silent cinema, and Annabel Mutale Reed may well be the highlight of the play as the unstoppably hilarious Lina Lamont. Combined with a terrific supporting cast, they make incredibly demanding material come across as child’s play.
The choreography is also largely impeccable, with complex dance sequences involving huge numbers of people coming off without a hitch. The tap-dancing in the first half is some of the best I’ve seen all year, and everything is so perfectly paced you feel like you can sing along even without knowing the words. The grace and polish of the choreography reflects well on the production as a whole; slick, witty, and effortlessly charming, this play hasn’t got a hair out of place. An absolute joy, and one well worth battling through the late October drizzle to see.