No rain - but a vintage umbrella! And water, though it just happened to be in the lakes rather than falling from clouds. My homage to Singin' in the Rain was composed of a vintage, fringed dress recently brought from the fantastic Oxfam branch in Camden, a sash from the dressing up box, shoes from a flea market and a swan brooch from my mum. My hair, thank goodness, was only temporarily bobbed - pinned up at the back to create a 1920s style look.
“I’m singin’ in the rain, just singin’ in the rain, what a glorious feeling, I’m happy again!”
The first time I watched Singin’ in the Rain I was lying in a hospital bed about five days after spinal surgery. For small, sweet moments I was transported – the agony in my back reduced to a dull ache as I focused on the highly intricate movement of feet or the flash of sequins. But other sequences were just blurs of colour as I sank back into my pillow, unable to keep up with the fast paced numbers. Finding the film for the first time during such uncertainty and pain meant that it remains in my head as a completely vivid hour or two. Blame it on the morphine if you will, but to me this cinematic delight remains elevated to technicolour heights of glory: bright costumes, sets and voices ringing through my mind.
I’ve watched it many times since - reveling in the umbrella twirling, puddle splashing and spectacular high kicks. From Cyd Charis’ sensuous solo during ‘Broadway Melody’ to Donald O’Connor’s comedic and extraordinarily performance in ‘Make Em Laugh’, each number demonstrates equal skill and beauty. I jokingly claim that I’m a failed ballet dancer at heart, so maybe this accounts for my fascination, but there’s something very special about witnessing the way that humans manipulate their bodies through dance. Whether the mood is one of elegance, drama or slapstick, the accomplished dancer expresses something almost beyond words. They draw the audience in, each extended limb or curled hand like a comma beckoning our full attention. It’s another form of communication, spoken in movement.
Like any form of art, dance is characterized by a huge amount of hard graft and practice. Each perfect spin is the result of numerous failed attempts – in much the same way that the ideal novel builds upon all that has previously been written. ‘Perseverance’ is certainly a word that could have been extended to the cast of ‘Singin’ in the Rain’. Gene Kelly performed the titular sequence with a high fever over two days, Debbie Reynolds’ feet bled after accomplishing ‘Good Morning’ and Donald O’Connor found himself in hospital on completion of ‘Make Em Laugh’. But all we witness on screen is the end product, the culmination of many months’ work and perfectionism. We are offered escapism and enjoyment.
If some of those dance sequences took two weeks to film, then I can only imagine how exhausted the performers are at the end of each night of the stage adaptation. I was recently invited to see the version currently playing at the Palace Theatre in the West End, London, taking my friend Merlin. He was a ‘Singin’ in the Rain’ first timer; I was keen to see how the narrative transitioned from screen to stage. Producing a theatrical version of a much loved film makes sense commercially, but can be tricky creatively. How to recapture the original atmosphere without becoming a mere facsimile, a shadow? How to ensure that the actors retain the brilliance of on-screen predecessors without being mirror images? The answer, it seems, is to pay homage while still retaining individuality. Ensemble dances, outfits and the order of events were all tailored to the stage, while filmed sequences momentarily transformed the theatre into a cinema. Katherine Kingsley’s Lina Lamont was pure high camp – all diamante and nasal whining – while the main trio played off each other’s energy to thrilling, glorious effect.
But even though reviews had built up my expectation of the rainstorm sequence, the visual impact of watching 14,000 litres of water pouring over the heads of the performers below was simply jubilant. Although this water is recycled every night, I noticed a fair few puddles' worth flicked in the audience’s direction (the front few rows of the stalls were furnished with rain capes!)
We left the theatre floating on the afterglow of song and dance and walked along Regents Street, shop windows and streetlamps lighting our way. Those moments after the performance, when the last dregs of colour and spectacle were still clinging to our clothes were really quite wonderful, ones to be celebrated and cherished – moments of being utterly alive.
It wasn’t raining that night, only a faint mist of drizzle settling across London. A shame really. There’s something very raw about tilting your face up towards the sky as it pours. It’s a liberation – revelling in getting drenched, in demonstrating (and more importantly, feeling) a sense of recklessness. It’s not so much singing in the rain but dancing in the rain that appeals to me. Perhaps it’s just a childish delight akin to squelching through mud or returning home covered in grass stains, but if so then I’m glad that the euphoria of such an activity is never lost.
Singin' in the Rain is on at the Palace Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue, London. You can see details on their website here. Big thanks to Frankie at Premier Communications for such a lovely night out.