Singin' in the Rain - London

The stage adaptation of the classic film arrives in the West End.

Olivier Award Nominee Katherine Kingsley on the Glorious Feeling of Starring in London’s Singin’ in the Rain

The effervescent Katherine Kingsley is celebrating her second Olivier Award nomination for the formidable style (and nasal squawk) she brings to sidelined silent movie actress Lina Lamont in Singin’ in the Rain at London’s Palace Theatre. Her first Olivier nod came in 2009 for two parts in Piaf, opposite Elena Roger (now on Broadway in Evita). caught up with Kingsley to talk about her character, her show’s onstage downpours and what she plans to wear to the 2012 Olivier Awards on April 15.

You’re clearly having great fun in Singin’ in the Rain. Was it difficult to pitch the character of Lina Lamont so that she doesn’t topple into caricature?
Lina is my favorite of the characters I’ve ever played! I really have a lot of empathy for her, and I can see her point of view. I know she takes it too far and that she exists completely in her own bubble, but I think she’s delightful; it’s a beautifully written part.

What’s great about your performance is that you don’t just play the accent.
It is a crazy voice—really screechy—but it’s also based on truth, and I really wanted to show that about her, as well. Lina has worked hard to get where she’s gotten, like a lot of those actresses in the 1920s who came from rough backgrounds. She had to fight, so she has a shrewdness and intelligence and ambition about her. She’s clever in her way, and you have to respect that.

Jean Hagen played the part on screen and received one of the film’s two Oscar nominations. Was the movie an important reference point for you?
Believe it or not, I haven’t watched Singin’ in the Rain in its entirety, ever [laughs]! I’ve seen clips on YouTube and here and there, but I didn’t want [the film] to inform me—though you have to be careful that you’re not doing something so different that people won’t recognize it. I even toyed with the idea of playing the voice completely differently, but at the end of the day Lina has a squawk and a screech and a very strong Brooklyn accent and you have to get that across.

You get a song in the second act, “What’s Wrong With Me,” that isn’t in the film.
Yes, that was added later, and I know some people don’t like it because they think, “Lina can’t sing, so why does she have the song?” But I would say that it’s not really singing; it’s almost like a monologue—an opportunity for Lina to show some vulnerability when she is in her dressing room on her own. It allows the audience into Lina’s turmoil just a bit; I love having that moment.

The opening night audience seemed to crave the rain at the end of both acts, as if they couldn’t wait to get drenched.
That’s part of the joy of the production: watching the rain fall during [star] Adam [Cooper’s] dance is one of the most thrilling things I’ve ever seen, and it does seem to have that “wow” factor. It’s the one thing films can’t do—you get to see [the rain] live.

With England in a drought, I was wondering whether your water supply might be curtailed!
I asked that very same question: Is this going to be Singin’ in the Drought? [Laughs.] But it seems that our water is recycled so it floods the stage and then goes back down into a tank and is constantly cleaned. Apparently, we use about two bathloads of water a week, which is less than the average household.

You’ve played actresses in other musicals, including Rose Vibert in the 2010 revival of Aspects of Love. What do you think Rose and Lina would make of each other?
Lina would probably think “whatever” [spoken with a honk], you know? She wouldn’t understand. I think Rose would think Lina is a bit of fluff and should go away and do some theater. But Rose would also be busy tending to her ménage a trois! [Laughs.]

In the 2008 revival of Piaf, you played two roles, one of whom was the legendary Marlene Dietrich. It seems as if you get to play every nationality—American, French, German—except your own!
I know, and it’s not as if I sat there at drama school [the Bristol Old Vic] thinking, “I’m going to have a career playing different accents.” I didn’t see that coming at all! But perhaps it’s because I am musical that I have a good ear for accents. What’s good, too, is that it means I haven’t been typecast; I get to play women from all walks of life.

Have you stayed in touch with your Piaf leading lady, Elena Roger, as she prepares to open on Broadway in Evita?
I have! Elena is a dear friend of mine and we correspond through e-mail. I’m desperate to get to New York and see her, but probably won’t be able to until September, when I finish [in Singin’ in the Rain]. I saw her do the show in London, and we had the most extraordinary time working together on Piaf; I wish I could be there now in New York to support her.

How does your experience of the Olivier Awards this season compare to three years ago, when you had your first nomination?
It’s been very different. Last time, I knew I had been nominated a few weeks before because I had a secret phone call, whereas this time, it came out of the blue. I like that the ceremony is much more available now on the BBC, and even in America. The Oliviers should be taken as seriously as the Tonys.

Who are you taking to the awards?
My fella, [actor] Dominic Tighe, who was with me in Aspects playing my younger lover; that was a challenge! [Laughs.] But that’s not actually how we met; we were together before then and got cast in the production independently, which was amazing.

Do you know what you’re wearing?
I’m being dressed by Jacques Azagury, who is based in Knightsbridge and used to dress Princess Diana. I went there this morning to have the dress fitted and it’s got gold sequins and is very elegant and lovely and I’m absolutely delighted; I can’t believe my luck!