Tag Archives: Ben Norris

The Choir of Man

The Choir of Man

★★★★★

Arts Theatre

The Choir of Man

The Choir of Man

Arts Theatre

Reviewed – 10th November 2021

★★★★★

 

“The Choir of Man is that rare thing, a simultaneously deeply familiar, yet different, West End musical experience”

 

“Welcome to the Jungle” is the friendly sign on stage that greets audiences as they enter for an eighty minute sing along at the Arts Theatre in Covent Garden—and what a welcome it turns out to be. The Choir of Man, first created in 2017 for the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, has since toured around the world to great acclaim. It’s easy to see why. Despite being built around a simple premise—a group of men gathered together for an evening in their favourite pub, the Jungle—the show turns out to be more than just a bunch of blokes sitting around, swapping songs, and drinking beer. The Choir of Man is an updated take on the importance of the local pub in people’s lives. And there isn’t a whiff of stale beer from beginning to end.

The Choir of Man, created by Nic Doodson and Andrew Kay, is built to entertain. It also pulls at the heartstrings in unexpected ways. The cast invites you into their lives, giving their real names. They’re not there to brag or to pretend to be something they’re not—but to talk frankly about their vulnerabilities. In doing so, they cast light on why men, in the midst of their greatest joys and sorrows, head unerringly to the local pub. Doodson and Kay’s approach strikes just the right chord—especially when sung to the right tunes. The Choir of Man sounds like it shouldn’t work as well as it does, but the earnest, often rhyming, monologues (written by Ben Norris) create solid characters for us to identify with. The monologues are also the introductions to the roles that are linked with the songs. This technique does verge on the corny from time to time, such as when a man, married too young, and bored with the relationship, puts a personal ad in the local paper. But The Choir of Man has a fresh take on Rupert Holmes’ Pina Colada Song, (written long before dating apps, remember). The spirit the cast brings to this song, and the other old favourites, creates an infectious energy. When asked, there are plenty of volunteers from the audience willing to go on stage and take part in the fun.

The production displays a wealth of easily accessible performance and design touches that match the concept. The performers of The Choir of Man have pleasant voices, project solid niceness of character without being dull, and they’re well dressed in unassuming clothes (good choices by costume designer Verity Sadler). They move well (kudos to Freddie Huddleston for the choreography that manages to look natural even while upping the energy in the room.) The talented live band is placed above the pub so that the audience can see their work, while watching the dynamic singing and dancing below. Oli Townsend has created an effective set design that gives director Nic Doodson just the right kind of space to work with. The playing time of The Choir of Man is also well judged—long enough to keep the audience delighted, yet eager for more.

The most remarkable thing about The Choir of Man is not what a good evening’s entertainment it is, and it is—but in seeing how many men in the audience seemed more than content to be there cheering and singing along instead of spending the evening at, you guessed it, their local pub. This show clearly hits a nerve with the guys—and it’s a happy one. But The Choir of Man is not just for them. The atmosphere throughout is adroitly managed by the team on stage and off it, and everyone, regardless of gender or sexual orientation, will feel welcome at The Jungle. The Choir of Man is that rare thing, a simultaneously deeply familiar, yet different, West End musical experience. And the more intimate Arts Theatre in Covent Garden, in the vicinity of all the big musical theatres, is exactly the right place for this singular show.

 

Reviewed by Dominica Plummer

Photography by Helen Maybanks

 


The Choir of Man

Arts Theatre until January 2022

 

Previously reviewed this year by Dominica:
Public Domain | ★★★★ | Online | January 2021
The Sorcerer’s Apprentice | ★★★ | Online | February 2021
Adventurous | ★★½ | Online | March 2021
Stags | ★★★★ | Network Theatre | May 2021
Overflow | ★★★★★ | Sadler’s Wells Theatre | May 2021
The Sorrows of Satan | ★★★ | Online | May 2021
Doctor Who Time Fracture | ★★★★ | Unit HQ | June 2021
Wild Card | ★★★★ | Sadler’s Wells Theatre | June 2021
In My Own Footsteps | ★★★★★ | Book Review | June 2021
L’Egisto | ★★★ | Cockpit Theatre | June 2021
Luck be a Lady | ★★★ | White Bear Theatre | June 2021
The Game Of Love And Chance | ★★★★ | Arcola Theatre | July 2021
The Ladybird Heard | ★★★★ | Palace Theatre | July 2021
Starting Here, Starting Now | ★★★★★ | Waterloo East Theatre | July 2021
Rune | ★★★ | Round Chapel | August 2021
Roots | ★★★★★ | Wilton’s Music Hall | October 2021
The Witchfinder’s Sister | ★★★ | Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch | October 2021
Rice | ★★★★ | Orange Tree Theatre | October 2021
Love And Other Acts Of Violence | ★★★★ | Donmar Warehouse | October 2021
One Man Poe | ★★★ | The Space | October 2021
Vinegar Tom | ★★★ | The Maltings Theatre | October 2021
Marlowe’s Fate | ★★★ | White Bear Theatre | December 2021

 

Click here to see our most recent reviews

 

Lava

★★★★

Bush Theatre

Lava

Bush Theatre

Reviewed – 15th July 2021

★★★★

 

“an important story, and judging by the racially charged goings-on of last week, couldn’t be timelier”

 

I know what the embodiment of true joy and self-assuredness looks like: It looks like Ronkẹ Adékoluẹjo in a sunshine yellow jumpsuit dancing hard all over a lava-encrusted multi-level set to a double-time remix of Aretha’s ‘Think’; dancing so hard she leaves the audience to three rounds of applause whilst she gets her breath back. And thus, we are introduced to “Her”.

“Her”- as Her Majesty’s Passport office keeps referring to her- is trying to renew her British passport with no luck. A dual citizen, her first name is missing from her South African passport, and she needs to fix this before they’ll renew her British one. But why is her name missing in the first place? This mystery sparks the beginning of a journey back, bridging decades and continents, beginning in a colonised Congo, and ending in modern day London, all in search of a sense of belonging. Though Adékoluẹjo begins with a joyous dance, the story itself is one of struggle and fury.

Though later in the story the name of “Her” is confirmed as writer Benedict Lombe, Lombe having employed an actor to play the role might easily have given the performance a fictional detachment. But Adékoluẹjo undertakes the story as though it were her own, with so much love and care that the separation between writer and performer is invisible to the audience’s eye. Slipping between prose and colloquialism, both the script and Adékoluẹjo are completely charming.

The premise is strong and compelling: The reason behind her missing first name is fascinating and perfectly symbolic of the messy nuances of identity and history. But there’s a disconnect between the resolution of this first dilemma and the rest of the story, which is still rich in character and content but without a central element to keep it on track. The ending too feels messy, as though Lombe couldn’t quite decide how to finish, so she picked all the options.

This is really all much of a muchness though because it hardly dampens the effects of Lombe’s passionate and remonstrative script and Adékoluẹjo’s effervescent performance. This is an important story, and judging by the racially charged goings-on of last week, couldn’t be timelier.

 

 

Reviewed by Miriam Sallon

Photography by Helen Murray

 


Lava

Bush Theatre until 7th August

 

Recently reviewed by Miriam:
Tarantula | ★★★★ | Online | April 2021
Reunion | ★★★★★ | Sadler’s Wells Theatre | May 2021
My Son’s A Queer But What Can You Do | ★★★½ | The Turbine Theatre | June 2021
The Narcissist | ★★★ | Arcola Theatre | July 2021

 

Click here to see our most recent reviews