The Choir of Man
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: