Mamma Mia at the O2 - Singalong (24/1/10) 24 January 2010

Yes, it was the film of Mamma Mia and yes, the West End cast (most of them) were there to perform, and yes it was a sing-along but for me the star of the day was the actual screen.

They weren't kidding about it being the biggest screen. 100ft! It spanned the width of the O2 arena floor and seemed about half that length high. At the pre screening performance, the live cast was dwarfed beneath it, but, the clarity and resolution of the film itself was 100% Maybe even more. I don't know how they did it, but it was impressive. (see pics at end for size)

I wouldn't have normally thought to go to this sing-along (£25 a ticket but I got a pair for free through SeeFilmFirst). Not that I'm against sing-alongs or don't like the film but Mamma Mia doesn't, in my mind, automatically lend itself to a group sing along in the vein of The Sound of Music or Grease. Years ago, I was at the very first Sing-Along-a Sound of Music at the NFT and in my mind, the experience can never be equalled or bettered. The statements being thrown back at the screen and the essentially camp atmosphere was something that no one there could have ever anticipated. It was one of the funniest afternoons I have ever had in the cinema and it was all improved. People did dress up - AND - there were actual Nuns in the audience which only added to the experience. Since then, it was made into a franchise and as a result has become a very formulaic experience, distributing props and things to do and say. All enjoyable in it's own way but non of the 'throwing caution to the wind' anarchy of that first screening event.

One thing I really noticed about Mamma Mia which never really occured to me before is how much of it is - for lack of a better term - a woman's film. Not that it's only for women but it's pretty much from a woman's perspective. This is especially noticeable in the lyrics to the songs. They are pretty much all from a very specific perspective and I am sure many of the men in the audience would find it strange to sing and mean them. Another clue (which could also point to the fact that I have been late in this realisation) was who was in the audience. Granted, it was the matinee showing - there were two, a matinee and evening - but there were quite a few families. Mainly mothers with their daughters - of all ages, I would say from around 7 or 8 years old and up. When I really thought about it I realised that the images of mature women who are just getting on with things and not ready to pack it all in, are really good things for young girls to see.

Back to the concept. Another reason Mamma Mia wouldn't really work within the sing-along realm is there is nothing really ridiculous or stupid about the lyrics or the story. There isn't anything you could take the piss out of, the film is already doing that for you. The only exception is Pierce Brosnan whom many think has one of the worst singing voices going, and to be honest, I think that's unfair. He is fine and no one that I could hear was laughing during his songs. Also, there were some people dressed up in Mamma Mia gear but if you think about it the only thing you can do is dress up in garrish 70's garb, like the characters. Well, you can come in shorts and short sleeves but why? (or you can be an anarchist and dress up like characters form the other Grease. Get it?)

Finally, on the sing-along aspect - although we had the lyrics on screen, which changed colour to show which word to sing where, many, and I mean many people were tripped up, singing the original Abba version and not the dramatic version in the film. There was singing, albeit very quiet, but the crowd didn't come alive until the final credits. If you haven't seen the film, the closing credits are very entertaining. It's pretty much additional staged footage of the cast singing 'Dancing Queen' and 'Waterloo'. The crowd were on their feet.

Opening the afternoon was the current West End cast of Mamma Mia. We had good seats and for us they were just dancing ants on stage. They did about four songs in quick succession. The first had the three female leads holding microphones but it would be hard to convince me they weren't miming. Then we had a few more numbers with all the dancers (I've never seen the stage show but there seemed to be about 30 of them - I know that's an exaggeration but that's how it seemed). No one was holding a microphone, I couldn't detect any mics on any kind so I will have to say they weren't actually singing as well. Lastly the three female leads came out in their 70's gear and did 'Dancing Queen'. Again holding mics. (Again, not really singing me thinks.)

Anyway, I love the film. I love Meryl's performance of 'The Winner Takes It All' (which received applause form the audience) and seeing it for the first time on a big screen was an absolute treat. I don't know if they are planning on doing this again in smaller theatres but if they do I can't really see it taking off. You'd probably have as much film at home watching and singing along with friends (or alone with a bottle of wine).

Full screen view and West End cast takes to the stage (to give perspective on the size of the screen)