Musical 'nuns' go camping with Julie and Von Trapps

IN THE immortal words of Julie Andrews, let's start at the very beginning.

If you know your Rodgers and Hammerstein from your Sondheim, you may be humming already. Tapping your feet, dreaming of Austrian mountains, half a dozen children dancing round you. Hills alive with The Sound of Music, and all that.

This might be your idea of hell, of course. But for visitors to the 13th Lesbian and Gay Film Festival at the National Film Theatre next month, a special screening of the legendary musical will be an event to treasure.

Indeed, "Singalong-a-Sound-of-Music" is festival organiser Robin Baker's idea of a jolly good day out. "The idea is a vaguely stolen one," he admitted. "I heard of a cinema in Glasgow doing a screening of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers for old people, and thought, 'what a charming idea'.

"You go to the cinema or to watch a musical where you know all the words, and the thing you want to do is sing along. I thought how pleasurable it would be for audiences to break the ultimate taboo."

The NFT audience tends to be younger, so he tried to think of something "marginally less charming" than Seven Brides. "We sat down and tried to decide what musical everybody knew inside out, every line of dialogue, and the winner was The Sound of Music."

Julie Andrews' status as a gay icon was a factor, he said. "And there's something inherently camp about nuns." The NFT will be welcoming as many Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence - the group of gay men who dress as nuns - as care to squeeze into the 450-seater cinema.

There will be special rehearsals just before the Sunday afternoon screening on 18 April, and prizes for the best appropriate costumes. The film will have the lyrics along the bottom of the picture for anyone who does not know the words. The NFT does not have the technology to provide a "bouncing dot", but organisers seem confident the audience will be able to keep up.

Indeed, if the participants prove half-competent, Mr Baker hopes to split them into sections representing each of the Von Trapp children.

If they are very good, a decision will be made during the interval, halfway through, whether to perform in parts the sophisticated number So Long, Farewell.

In keeping with the film's storyline, in which Julie Andrews' character Maria makes play-clothes for the regimented Von Trapp children, top prizes in the dressing-up competition will go to those who make the best use of curtains.

Although most of the films screened during the fortnight will fall into the realm of serious drama, The Sound of Music will feature more than once.

David Benedict, theatre critic of The Independent, will present a follow- up to last year's sell-out festival lecture, "Camp Cooks and Queer Cuisine", by showing how "Hollywood musicals have taught us everything we need to know about love, lust and luscious living". The lecture's title? "Oklahomo!"

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