Singing your way to the campest, jolliest night around

The Singalong Sound of Music has returned to Stockholm - and there really is no kitscher way to enjoy a trip to the cinema, discovers The Local's James Savage.

Singing your way to the campest, jolliest night around

Passive entertainment is, we are told, passé.

In the age of “Idol” and “Let’s Dance”, we no longer simply sit spellbound by the romantic stars of stage and screen.

Rather, we in the audience now control the outcome of TV shows with televotes, choose alternative film endings, or bare our insecurities (and much else besides) for a prime time audience in any of a plethora of reality television shows — many of which leave something to be desired.

But for those of us who can resist the call of exhibitionist television, there’s still a nagging desire to be part of the action.

This might perhaps be the reason for the phenomenal success of the Singalong Sound of Music, which has been playing around the world since 1999 and has been playing in cinemas around Sweden for exactly ten years this year.

The Singalong is, in essence, what it sounds like – an audience sitting in front of a cinema screen, singing along to Rodgers and Hammerstein’s classic 1965 film starring Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer.

But this really doesn’t cover the half of it.

It’s also a joke-along, play-along, dress-along – even dance-along – evening of racuous entertainment.

The British have a word for this: camp. Musicals – particularly those involving nuns, cuckoo clocks, clothes made out of curtains, naughty Nazi messenger boys and lederhosen – are camp by definition. Somehow, though, this format manages to make it camper.

The campness is exacerbated by the fact that the evening is very ritualized.

You sit down, stand up, sing, recite lines at appointed junctures. In its way it’s like a slightly-more-than-usually kitsch and remarkably boisterous Catholic mass – with a full complement of nuns, of course.

It’s probably fair to say that most members of the congregation are far from recent converts, but there is help on hand for the newly evangelized.

The high priest of the evening is an Englishman – dressed for the occasion as an Austrian – David Lones. His opening gambit it to tell you to forget everything you have ever been taught about how to behave when watching a film.

But by this point such instructions are almost superfluous. The stream of male nuns and students dressed in floral curtains should have already disabused anyone who thought they were turning up for a night of charming vintage cinema.

For all the silliness, it’s actually vaguely complicated. There are detailed instructions about what to shout at the screen when various characters enter.

The chaste but feisty Maria gets a ‘hurrah’, the catty baronness gets a ‘meow’. You even get a little goody bag full of props, to be used at various high points of the evening.

Perhaps it’s the instructions, with their Ikea-like level of complexity, that make the Swedes love the Singalong Sound of Music so much (it has been more successful here than nearly anywhere else).

Maybe it’s just the fact that this is a country that loves communal singing. It’s certainly a chance to enjoy a beautiful classic film in a beautiful old cinema – although in a slightly unconventional format.

But the thing is – they’re onto something. If you want an evening out that leaves you talking spontaneously to the person sitting next to you, that has you screaming with laughter, that leaves your head buzzing with endorphins and your throat hoarse with singing, then there really is nothing like it.

After two raucous performances this spring, producer Lones has promised this season’s third and final Stockholm show on Wednesday, May 30th at Stockholm’s regal Skandia cinema.

So whether you’re a seasoned Singalong veteran, a die hard Sound of Music fan, or simply looking for another reason to dust off that nun costume tucked away in your closet, be sure to catch the show before it once again says “So Long, Farewell” to the Swedish capital.

It will almost soon be something you count among your “favourite things”.

James Savage

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Sweden: A land of hairdressers and writers

Sweden's capital Stockholm is full of hairdressers and writers, and sometimes even writers in hairdressers. And it can be a disturbing city when you're a bald Frenchman who happens to be a writer, observes Luis de Miranda.

Sweden: A land of hairdressers and writers

As a bald French writer exiled in Stockholm since last year, I have rapidly noticed that 50 percent of the Swedish population is either a hairdresser or a writer – or both.

In Stockholm, there is a frisör every fifty metres, where you usually find a lonely person getting a blond hair colour or a new cut, while reading the newspaper.

In the newspaper you will find many articles about people who engage in many different activities but who are also often designated as författare (writer): Sven Svensson, actor and författare; Camilla Johansson, yoga instructor and författare; Fredrik Reinfeldt, prime minister and författare.

It seems that any kind of printed material entitles you to be a författare, and some daily newspapers need to display book reviews in every edition in order to keep the pace and make all the författare happy.

Let’s be honest: I can understand that everybody agrees to call everybody else

a writer – that is an interesting form of collective vanity – but why so many

hairdressers? Some say it’s about money laundering. Or is it also about vanity?

People want to have nice blond hair and it is understandable. But as a bald French writer, I simply don’t exist here in Sweden: having little hair makes me invisible and

being a writer makes me very common.

I am considering wearing a wig and stopping my Swedish classes in order to remain relatively illiterate in the language of Swedenborg (no, this is not the name of my hairdresser). I shall refrain from writing even the slightest memoir on beard shaving.

But please don’t misunderstand me. I love Sweden and the Swedes. I respect any författare, any frisör, and I like fika, folkhem, filmjölk and feminism…

Sweden is just…fantastic.

Luis de Miranda is a French novelist, philosopher, editor and film director who has been in Stockholm for a year. He is also bald.