Singing alonga in the shire

I think there’s just one cinema context in which it’s perfectly acceptable to break several elements of The Code of Conduct – where singing along isn’t frowned upon, it’s actively encouraged; where phone action in the form of photography is positively essential; and the audience’s noise levels rise, instead of falling, as the film progresses.

On Thursday night my sister and I spent the evening participating in Singalonga Grease back in the Shire, courtesy of our former neighbour and a long awaited Christmas gift. This friend had previously made several trips to Singalonga Sound of Music and I’d experienced Singalonga Joseph at a Greenbelt yonks ago, so it seemed logical that the Grease version would be something we’d appreciate. Not least, in fact, because it has a long-standing history with us. I babysat J’s children while she and her husband watched a 20th anniversary re-release; and we took their eldest girls to see it for the first time.

Sure, the year before last Greenbelt put on a sing along Grease screening which we entered into with aplomb. But it wasn’t the official ‘Singalonga’ experience – that’s something quite exceptional. It includes goodie bags with props for various points during the film, so for Grease we had a balloon, tissue, chequered flag and a party popper (I’ll leave you to use your imagination as to which got used when). Plus a host who kicks off proceedings with a bit of a singing warm-up and choreography advice. (I am now proficient in the hand-jive. I am immensely proud of this.)

But the most essential element of any Singlonga screening has to be the costumes. Years ago, when first experiencing Singalonga Sound of Music, J arrived at the venue to discover a sea of nuns and felt foolish that her family were not appropriately dressed. At two further screenings they went to town, on one occasion even creating a set of outfits out of curtains – that, my friends, is dedication to the cause. The key to these things is to choose something a little niche, like the people who went as brown paper packages tied up with string, or my sister’s cardboard guitar. Willing audience members are always invited up on stage for a costume contest, and it can get rather competitive.

For Grease, we were a little flummoxed. Pink Ladies jackets are two a penny, and 1950’s prom dresses can be hard to come by, but what else could we do? In the end all three of us simply went for ‘generic 1950s girl’, which was fine. However, on the morning of the show I was seized with an idea that, had I had been inspired days earlier, could have been a roaring success – all I needed was a Victorian style nightgown, a sheet of pink note-paper and an inflatable paddling pool.

[Don’t understand? That would be Olivia Newton-John’s outfit and props for Hopelessly Devoted To You.]

Arriving at the venue, we found many similarly generic 50’s ladies; a multitude of Pink Ladies; a plethora of Frenchies with unfortunate pink hair; and a smattering of T Birds. The competitors for best costumes included few truly creative numbers – although the bright spark who decided to go as Eugene had my vote. However, there was one group of women who were definite exceptions. It took me ages to get a photo of them, and this was the best I could do:

That, my friends, is the costume from Beauty School Dropout and is, what we like to call, genius.

And this is what we looked like:

The effect of all of this is a night out best described as a hen night on acid. Men were very much in the minority, and there seemed to be an awful lot of wine purchased from the cinema’s bar (we had Diet Pepsi and Jelly Babies – classy). In fact, when I finally get to the point of having a hen night, a night out like that wouldn’t actually be a bad way to go – normally I decry dressing up on hen nights, but I’d make an exception for this. No one seemed to mind when we shouted out the lines, and the subtitles were a joy to watch – not just simple words with a bouncing ball, no, this was full-on animation. An especially favourite moment was during Stranded at the Drive-In with the addition of dancing hot dogs and ice lollies.

I’ll accept that such an evening out might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I do highly recommend it. In addition to the films mentioned above, there’s also the obligatory Singalong Rocky Horror and Abba. Honestly, what’s not to enjoy about that?

I’d like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony

[I promise this will be the final Greenbelt post for this year – honest – and actually, it’s only loosely festival connected.]

I love a good singalong and it should therefore come as no surprise that much of my favoured Greenbelt activities are singing related. (Would it be big-headed to mention that I first went to the festival courtesy of a performer’s pass?) This year I went along intending to:
– Enjoy Beer & Hymns heartily (explanation here and video from last year here).
– Skip Sunday morning communion for the 6th year running and wash my hair instead (haven’t been a fan for a long time, what with long, rambling services and unknown songs).

However, I managed to miss Beer & Hymns thanks to over-zealous health and safety restrictions and found myself singing on mainstage for Sunday’s communion service – courtesy of a scratch choir led by a good friend of mine. Thus I managed to spend several hours singing hymns lustily, though sadly at no point did I have a pint in my hand.

I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in thinking that worship was a roaring success this year – thanks in no small part to the song choices. What 15,000 people want when worshipping together is stuff they can sing along to with gusto – and this often means old classics. Confetti exploding into the air during Thine Be the Glory was an added bonus…

Anyway, stuff the hymns – hands down the best singing experience of Greenbelt was Sing Along A Grease on Monday afternoon. We were there in plenty of time – lunch, blankets and chairs in tow – ready to enjoy (with relish). It’s possible that we ought to have had signs with us to let neighbours know that we intended to take this activity very seriously.

As in previous such situations (this group of friends formed the majority of my birthday karaoke troupe), we got a little out of control. Those around us seemed a little peturbed as it became increasingly obvious that we wouldn’t just be singing along to the songs with words. No, we also sang along to the background music (it’s on the soundtrack – my personal favourite is It’s Raining on Prom Night) and quoted the script verbatim. At moments there would be random loud shouts of key phrases: “A marine!”; “We’re going to rule the school!”; “A hickie from Kineckie is like a Hallmark card”; and others – all with the correct inflection and accent. What’s to disapprove of that? Oh, and we danced:

It’s no wonder we kept getting odd looks from those around us! (Though in our defence, we did also get a “great singing girls!” from the people sat in front of us.)

Now, you may be wondering why a Christian festival would show Grease in the middle of the afternoon to an audience of all-ages – we wondered too. Although I fell in love with it on first viewing aged 11, as a teenager I began to realise just how inappropriate a film it is for a younger audience – even if most of the dodgy content goes right over childrens’ heads. It does lead to unfortunate incidents, like my sister using the phrase ‘gang bang’ in conversation with my Dad, aged about 9 – Rizzo has a lot to answer for! Even watching it this time, we discovered new things – like a scene where Rizzo asks Danny if he’s going to ‘flog his log’ – I think you can guess what she might have been referring to…

The answer to the question would basically be that Monday had a 1950’s theme and therefore Grease was a logical choice of movie – plus, it was an awful lot of fun and about the closest we’ll ever get to a classic Drive In experience. Next year could we have a 1960’s themed Monday with sing along Hairspray please? Thanks.