Review – Singalonga “Hairspray” – Prince Charles Cinema


This is a guest review from K, who took a Saturday afternoon to go to the Prince Charles Cinema to check out the Singalonga version of the movie Hairspray
Sing-a-Long Hairspray at the Prince Charles

Apparently, “the first ever sing-a-long happened at an old people’s home in Inverness. The nurses wanted to involve the old people in an interactive group therapy and so screened Seven Brides For Seven Brothers and gave out song sheets so that everyone could sing-a-long”. A Sing-a-Long was then held at the Gay and Lesbian Film Festival in London in 1999 and subsequently ran at the Prince Charles Cinema, where it has found a permanent home. A global franchise has now developed: The Sound of Music is probably its signature show, but it also encompasses Joseph, Annie, Rocky Horror and now Hairspray. And soon, Abba.

Waiting outside the Prince Charles on Saturday afternoon, I could see that the audience for the show was going to be enthusiastic. A lot of them were wearing 1950s/60s outfits. Some of them were in costume as characters from the show. Almost all of them were female – this is apparently standard for the Sing-a-Longs. When we’d settled into our seats, we found the row behind us was mainly made up of pre-teens, which was reassuring. There are ten-year-olds who know all the words to Hairspray. That makes me very happy.

Before the film started, a cheerful and bossy woman in a wig told us what was in our plastic bags – a bell to ring during I Can Hear the Bells, a piece of sparkly fabric to wave during Welcome to the 60s, cards to hold up during Without Love, and so on. We had different noises to make when the different characters came on – wolf-whistles for Link, boos and hisses for the von Tussles and Penny’s mother, and so on. She made us stand up and practise our dance moves. I was glad I’d chosen my companion for the event carefully: P is, like me, a massive fan of Hairspray, and, not like me, an extrovert. He danced and waved and joined in, and I did too, but it took me a while to warm up to it all. It probably would have been easier at an evening showing after a couple of drinks.

There was a fancy dress competition – two in fact, one for adults and one for children – and then the film started. Watching a film in a Sing-a-Long atmosphere changes it, I found. You’re always waiting to join in. It’s now an interactive experience, not a passive one. After the first couple of numbers I started relaxing about it all, and I did enjoy singing along to everything. And dancing, although the amount of dancing you can do standing in a row of cinema seats is limited – I wonder what it would be like holding a Sing-a-Long in a nightclub? I even waved my various accessories, and the experience of holding up a placard saying ‘Integration not Segregation’ during I Know Where I’m Going was actually rather moving.

Ultimately, Hairspray is a great film, and being in a cinema full of other people who loved it and wanted to celebrate it was a feelgood experience. P and I came out smiling, although we admitted our feelings about the event were mixed. Maybe it would have helped to have had people at the front, as Rocky Horror does, to help us get in the mood. Maybe it felt a little too much like organised fun. I would definitely say that this is a show for people who have already seen the film and loved it – anything less and I think you’d feel out of place. I’d also suggest a couple of drinks beforehand. But maybe I’m just too English and introverted.

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