The Choir of Man is celebrating one year on the West End. Having originated at the Fringe in 2017, the show has since toured across the US, Australia, two cruise ships and now calls the Arts Theatre home.
The action takes place in a fictious pub called The Jungle. Before the show starts, you can purchase beer from a working bar on the stage whilst mingling with the cast – audience participation starts from the outset.
A cast of nine men make up a choir, representing typical characters you might find in a pub. These include The Bore (Peter Lawrence), The Romantic (Mark Irwin) and The Joker (James Hudson).
The show doesn’t have a traditional plot like most musicals, but instead is loosely tied together by monologues written by Ben Norris, and revolving around friends having fun in a pub, but not much else.. These are sentimental but contain an excessive amount of alliteration. They explore the importance of pubs and the idea of being together post-covid, which resonated well with me. There is also a heartfelt moment when each cast member is introduced by The Poet (Michael Hamway) and we learn what home means to them.
The musical arrangements by Jack Blume are orchestrated for nine voices and include classic and modern songs with great vocal harmonies. The choir are at their best whilst singing together, but Niall Woodson’s vocals in ‘Somebody to Love’ make for a standout performance.
Yet, it is frustrating that the characters aren’t explored further. There are hints at the importance of talking about men’s mental health, but they don’t actually talk. The closest we get to this is with The Romantic’s rendition of ‘Hello’. Irwin has a spotlight on him but the other men in the pub remain oblivious, engrossed in watching a game on TV. The choreography though is fantastic; Irwin sings directly to the audience whilst the cast comically reacts in slow motion to the game, illustrating that you might be unaware a friend is struggling, but this isn’t brought up again.
Additional choreographic highlights include Ben Goffe tap dancing to ‘50 Way to Leave Your Lover’ and the entire cast rhythmically clinking glass pint glasses during ‘Some Nights’. Woodson’s comedic timing is suburb when employing a mop as a microphone stand during ‘Escape (The Piña Colada Song)’.
The show is great fun and it is clear that people are enjoying themselves. At various points, audience members are picked to go up on stage to be serenaded by the cast. Packets of crisps are flung into the crowd and beers are passed round throughout.
At times the masculine energy feels overbearing and enhancing the diversity within the cast is where the production has room for improvement. But the energy from them is contagious and the audience leaves the theatre feeling upbeat. The show is very much a celebration of friendship and pubs, which so many of us missed during the pandemic.
Created & Produced by: Andrew Kay
Created, Produced and Directed by: Nic Doodson
Musical Supervisor, Vocal Arranger & Orchestrator: Jack Blume
Movement Director, Choreographer & Resident Director: Freddie Huddleston
Scenic Design by: Oli Townsend
The Choir of Man plays at the Arts Theatre until 18 February 2024. Further information and bookings can be found here.