Sing-Along Mamma Mia!

Brockley Jack Film Club
Brockley Jack Studio Theatre
(2011)

Production photo from Mamma Mia! the Movie

There is more than one string to the Brockley Jack bow. In addition to the Studio Theatre's programme of inventive revivals and interesting new writing, the space offers a home to comedy, cabaret, Scratch Nights (a showcase for new material covering story telling, sketches, short plays, stand up and poetry) and a film club.

This weekend a new initiative created a strange melange when the film club brought together in the theatre space a local choir, a sing-along edition of the Mamma Mia! film and an enthusiastic audience. Part film screening, part performance and part community vocal hoedown, Lewisham Council had provided some financial support to the event under the wing of their scheme to encourage more people to sing.

Although sing-alongs have been around for years, this was the first time the Jack had dipped their toe into the water, so who knew how it was going to go down? My summary would be 'amicably muddled'. On the one hand it is a film with family appeal and no one was really expecting raucous hen-nighters at the Jack, but the event was billed as "join the party" which was an idea taken seriously by a group of talkative northern Europeans who blew etiquette to the wind and behaved to please themselves.

The singing was due to be "expertly aided by the Sing It Back! Choir" but, apart from kicking off the evening with a nice arrangement of the film's title song, the choir, which also held up the start as some members did a last minute dash to the bar, contributed little. Most of the time it hardly mattered at all but with the less well known songs, some support would have helped those who struggled to join in.

Mamma Mia! The Movie doesn't have the warmth or charm of the stage show, but even with our European brethren exploiting the event's lack of formality, the film was much more enjoyable than I remember, and not just because audience participation covered the appalling vocal performance of Pierce Brosnan. I was put in mind of a birthday card I once received which said, "If you're not embarrassing your children, you're not having enough fun" and judging from the visible cringing of the pre-teens, a lot of fun was being had. "Super Trouper" triggered coloured lights, the disco ball received welcoming oohs, and those who had been itchily bobbing about in their seats thus far could resist no longer, broke their moorings and had a dance.

I hope the Jack have another go at a sing-along, but decide beforehand what they want it to be so it can be a little more orderly, with perhaps fewer but stronger singers. Producer Peter Huntley organised many successful sing-longs at the Theatre Museum and, after it closed, at other London venues, and the film club could do well to take a leaf out of his book: the warm and friendly atmosphere he created was maintained and underpinned by good-humoured managing.

Sharing songs so popular that they cross generations and international boundaries with a room-full of strangers is a bizarrely bonding experience, and that's without gustily tackling the crescendo of "The Winner Takes It All", everyone in their own key and not necessarily in synch with the film. In the end this is what mattered and as the film credits rolled the seats emptied but instead of leaving, the majority chose to stay and dance, and of course sing.

Reviewer: Sandra Giorgetti