The Choir Of Man
Created by Nic Doodson and Andrew Kay; monologues written by Ben Norris
Immersive Everywhere, Nic Doodson, Andrew Kay, Wendy & Andy Barnes and AK Theatricals
Arts Theatre, London
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The Choir Of Man is a show for people in need of upliftment who enjoy a drink and will surrender themselves to the fun.
This is especially true if lager is their tipple of choice. The first pint is free and served at the pub on stage (called The Jungle to justify the opening number “Welcome to the Jungle”), and if you are interested in a second bevvy, it may be delivered to your seat by one of the cast because, unique in the West End, The Choir Of Man is of the view that the show can stop whilst people get a refill without there being an interval.
This interlude causes no damage to the narrative arc because there isn't one, this is no more significant than a break in conversation whilst one of your mates gets in the next round.
The nine men are known not by their name but by their type, The Romantic / Hardman / Bore, their back story a sentence from the pen of two-time UK poetry slam champion Ben Norris as, of course, The Poet.
His narration comes between each song and peaks in cheesiness with the cast member introductions but he does a better job of curating the collection as whole.
Norris’s view of the pub is near-eulogy and pure escapism. It is idealised and nostalgic and nothing to do with the tension between middle-class-gastro-quiz-night-fatuity and another less edifying reality.
The same is true of the thirty-something, universally good looking cast who are charismatic, energetic and committed.
The songs are delivered pitch-perfect, ranging from Queen to Adele, with spine tinglingly good harmonies and thrilling arrangements (by Jack Blume), and are worth the price of the ticket alone.
In a show which is all about songs and in which everyone pulls their own weight, it is still worth pointing the spotlight on the violin playing of the band’s Darius Luke Thompson and the piano playing of Michael Baxter, The Maestro.
There is also stonking tap dancing from Jordan Oliver, the choreography refreshingly rejecting the jazz hands trope replacing it with something inflected with anger.
All in all, it is easy to see how The Choir of Man’s earlier run at the Arts Theatre got an Olivier Award nomination for best entertainment. This is a show though that is best watched through the bottom of a glass, a beer glass obviously. It is as contrived as the bar scene from Top Gun but thankfully much less conceited.
The precise choreography of group numbers (Freddie Huddleston) is designed to look casual, and whilst some of the geniality is surely genuine, there is no denying the rehearsed bonhomie of back-slaps, nods and fist bumping.
Look at the show unlubricated, or just too carefully, and something may kick in that undermines the pleasure of the first class singing, dancing and musicianship. This is a show that invites no thought but allowing my inner Jiminy Cricket its say, not all of it was a comfortable experience.
A scene where three of the men harmonise behind a wheel-on urinal bizarrely relieving themselves into plant pots is the most obvious. Setting aside the size of bladder necessary to sustain a stream for the duration of “Under the Bridge”, this was crude and witless, and right up there with fart jokes and the less charming characteristics of Peter Pan men who never matured as they grew up.
For my money, if you want to create a show that portrays men as thoughtful and sentient whilst saying something necessary about masculinity, you could do better than peeing standing up and throwing bags of pork scratchings into the audience.
More importantly perhaps, because there is something so intrinsically British about the pub as an institution, I was unable to shake off a niggling sense of contemporary Little Englander.
Fun is writ large all over Choir but the pub is depicted as a vital community fulcrum, a gathering place for the like-minded. This is safe territory where regulars have become friends who don’t pass judgement and epithets are awarded and worn with pride, a badge of sectional membership.
By definition, with affiliation comes exclusion and how could I not notice the absence of the non-English. Not a Welsh accent, not a reference to borders, not a whiff of spices not a trace of a society I would want to live in.
Putting Jiminy back in its box, it must be stressed it is perfectly possible to watch this show without engaging your frontal lobe and those that do so will not be chastised by me—we all need a safety valve. Leave judgement at the door, pick up a pint and enjoy The Choir of Man for the self-proclaimed “fun and frivolous and silly” show that it is.
Reviewer: Sandra Giorgetti