I felt very relieved a couple of weeks ago after our Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again singalong event at Bolton Little Theatre came to a successful close. For some reason my normal pre-show nerves were greater than usual, even though this had been our twelfth singalong event. But the anticipation and knowing that a whole audience of people have been looking forward to this night did bring a weight of responsibility on myself as the projectionist and co-organiser, and my friends who generously donated their Saturday night to help. Thanks to Adam Manning for his sterling work as the MC in getting the evening started with plenty of cheers and laughter, Jeff Lunt for making sure the lighting and the auditorium are ideally set up, Mark Pillar for House Managing and David Smart for his encouragement, co-organising the night and operating the bar with his wife Susan.
Every one of these events has had special memories for me. For this last one, it was the audience’s reactions every time Cher appeared, especially her set piece number “Fernando”. There a special shared joy in those spontaneous moments when a cinema audience reacts as one to a film, and it is probably that more than anything that has encouraged me to continue running Bolton Little Theatre’s big screen nights.
Favourite memories from the control box include: The big reaction and applause to “Does Your Mother Know” in Mamma Mia! Then the end of that movie, when Meryl Streep looked into the camera and asked, “Do you want more?”, the dancing audience answered back “Yes!” and for a moment the movie felt thrillingly live and happy. The teenagers who got up to the front and danced for the crowd during the end titles of Grease. During our first showing of Frozen, there’s a moment when Prince Hans asks Anna to marry him and a chorus of little girls’ voices said “Yes”, even though they must already have known he was a wrong’un.
Probably our biggest gamble was The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Partly because our copy did not actually have the onscreen Singalong lyrics and partly because out of all the movies we had shown, this one came with a substantial reputation and a whole history of audience interaction. Plus, I was not sure what the audience mix would be. I think it was my worry which led to me arriving on the night feeling quite ill from a virus. I was pleasantly surprised by the number of attendees who arrived in costume, I think we had at least one of every character, including two strapping Frank-N-Furters in basques and suspenders, as you can see in the photograph above. As the MC, Ryan Smart-Stanton was inspired that night with some of his improvisations. Then the film was underway, and everyone seemed to be on the same party vibe. “The Time Warp” maybe its most famous number, but my special memories of that screening were the audience rocking out to “Wild and Untamed Thing” and the emotional roar of cheers and applause after Frank-N-Furter’s torch song “I’m Going Home”.
A good Singalong movie is a very specific prescription. It is not enough to be a great musical, it needs to have enough songs in it that people recognise, plus it should be a fairly upbeat. That leaves a fairly small selection to choose from. Hairspray has the right mood for example, but its songs do not have much of a life beyond the movie. Walking on Sunshine is filled with well-known pop songs, but it is so ghastly in virtually every other respect that would hesitate to programme it.
But we are always open to new ideas. For example, the screenings of the Bolton-set film versions of Bill Naughton’s comedies Spring and Port Wine, and The Family Way, complete with on-stage introductions and an exhibition, courtesy of Live from Worktown, were well received and it was great to feel a whole auditorium reacting to those 1960’s movies. It is always gratifying to welcome people to our theatre who have never been before too. So now we are getting ready for The Greatest Showman, a musical tailor-made for watching in company and so popular we are holding two sold-out showings on 2nd November. I will no doubt be nervous again, but fingers-crossed by the end of the day I will have some new fond memories.
This article first appeared in the September 2019 edition of Bolton Little Theatre’s newsletter The Prompter.