Sing-A-Long-A The Greatest Showman – Review – York Grand Opera House
By @Roger Crow, October 2019
I unwrap my goodie bag and examine the contents. There’s a hand-shaped plastic clacker, so when you shake it, that’s for applause, obviously. But it can also be used for knocking nails in, making the sounds of horses’ hooves and so on. Then there’s the little doily I have to hide behind at a key occasion. There’s an invite for Buckingham Palace, and a glow stick. And a party popper, which we don’t use until later in the show. First the audience have to sit through a list of rules so complex I thought I’d wandered into a NASA training mission rather than a singalong version of The Greatest Showman.
We have to stand up at key moments, put our hands in the air and… at this point I just want the film to start, but no. There’s the fancy dress element as folks are brought to the stage. There’s some impressive Barnums, a very good albino lady, and best of all a strong man, who walks off with the prize and an enthusiastic reception from the audience.
Oh and there are puns too. “I’m too intents,” quips our host, alluding to a big top. “In. Tents”. Two of her. Doesn’t really work. I should know, as I’ve been using tent-related gags for years. Just ask my friend, Guy Rope. (How I’d love to rewrite the star’s script).
Okay, so eventually after all of that training, the film starts, and everyone is very into the spirit of things. I feel like I’ve wandered into a hen do and panto combined.
The crowd go wild, there are waving glow sticks, a cacophony of clackers and lights, on the screen, which makes me want to have a word with the organisers about the fact lights on cinema screens don’t really work. But the confetti cannon is a nice touch as it fires over the audience, as is the moment when PT Barnum (the awesome Hugh Jackman with his lop-sided grin and bags of energy) shows his family that light show on the roof top, and we get a disco ball effect that shimmers across the audience and ceiling.
“Tricky tightrope balancing act”
After 20 minutes of using my clacker (that’s not a euphemism), and waving my glow stick (ditto), I’m exhausted. So many rules. I just want to get lost in the film again, but the sound of people singing along is sort of getting in the way. I know that’s the point. After all, it’s a sing-a-along show. That’s the USP. But for me the key problem is this is all a bit soon. It took a while for The Rocky Horror Picture Show to develop that audience participation thing. It was nurtured by midnight screenings and word of mouth. This feels a bit forced. Which is not to say it’s not enjoyable, and some moments are phenomenal. ‘Tapping the nails’ during the posters scene (with strategic clacking) is a great touch, but there are times when folks just don’t follow the rules and go crazy with their clackers, just because they’re a bit bored probably in-between those show-stopping moments.
Here’s the thing. I LOVE The Greatest Showman. Yes, some of it’s a bit cheesy, and the effects in places are a bit ropey, and Tom Thumb’s dubbing looks and sounds awkward, but it has a huge heart; most of the songs are terrific, and when Rebecca Ferguson ’sings’ ‘Never Enough’ (yes mimed, but brilliantly), and Hugh reacts like he’s just found out he’s won a dozen Oscars, it’s one of my favourite movie moments of the decade. But sustaining this level of audience participation longer than half an hour is so tiring.
Of course ask one of the kids in the audience, and chances are they loved it. The panto element is good fun, and the toys help make the experience come alive, but some films are meant to be just that personal bond between the screen and the viewer rather than a glorified kids’ party.
A little tweaking with the lights, so it illuminates the crowd rather than the screen; less rules, and preamble, and this could have been something really special. Yes, there are a million dreams I wish for to make this work. Though judging by the rapturous reception from the masses, I’m obviously in a minority, which is fine.
Panto is one medium and film is another. Merging the two is a tricky tightrope balancing act that’s worth a try, but what’s great about the movie is that electricity that manages to still get through to the viewer, despite the distractions. That’s the power of a good film. Oh yes it is.
From now on I may have to stick to simpler cinema screenings and leave the clacking to partygoers. So, not quite the greatest show, but still an unforgettable night, and a welcome way to ease those autumnal blues.