Tag Archives: Matt Thorpe

The Choir of Man

The Choir of Man


Arts Theatre

THE CHOIR OF MAN at the Arts Theatre



Choir of Man

“we leave with music in our hearts and a smile on our face”


The immediate sensation on walking into the Arts Theatre is one of nostalgia. Almost a yearning, for what is a rapidly disappearing institution: the local pub. The sticky floor, familiar faces. Beer mats on the tables instead of menus. No wine list. No cocktails. Just beer taps and bonhomie. “Welcome to the Jungle”. It’s an odd choice of name for a traditionally English (or is it Irish?) pub. But the regulars have probably just adopted the title in homage to Bon Jovi who provides the opening number to this exuberantly brilliant musical tribute, jukebox, concert, mash-up.

It is all very manufactured, but we soon forgive and forget as we are swept along in the flow of spilt beer and emotions. Our host is slam poet Ben Norris who guides us through the self-penned narrative. “We’re not here to tell a story” he announces, which is good counsel because there isn’t one. “We’re here to give each of us life”. Which is even better. The life and energy that every cast member brings to the stage defines, if not eclipses, our idea of a ‘bloody good night out’.

The choice of songs might sometimes be suspect, but the arrangements, courtesy of musical supervisor, vocal arranger and orchestrator Jack Blume, are captivating. Rousing anthems rub shoulders with stripped back a Capella moments. The synthetic seriousness of the lyrics is either lampooned or embraced depending on the personality of the singer. Occasionally schmaltz does gain the upper hand, but it can’t sustain itself. Humour intervenes, and a natural showmanship that is simultaneously virtuosic and blokey. Freddie Huddleston’s choreography belies its inventive precision with spontaneity and spirit.

With no story to follow we are left to wallow in the glorious performances. Whether this is deliberate or not is unclear, but it is in song that the personalities shine. Norris introduces us to the stock characters: the beast, the romantic; the hardman and the barman. The joker and the bore, and so on. But they are sketches until the music starts. Michael Baxter, as the maestro, gives a wonderfully playful and skilful rendition of The Proclaimers’ ‘I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)’ while Jordan Oliver’s handyman persona tap dances furiously through Paul Simon’s ‘Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover’. Adele’s ‘Hello’ finally gets the poignancy it deserves, very cleverly set against the backdrop of the boys watching the football on the pub TV screen. Norris raises the hair on our necks with Luther Vandross’ ‘Dance with my Father’.

The overall message, if there is one, is of the importance of human connection. It presupposes that it is a dying art and much of the blame is put on lockdown. It is part fantasy in that it solicits a world that was better without qualification. But that’s nostalgia for you – it ain’t what it used to be. If you can ignore the various platitudes (‘home is where the heart is… but what if your heart is all over the place?’) “The Choir of Man” is a stunning musical show. And rightly so the crowd were on their feet before too long. It’s heartening to see a production like this make it into the West End, but there is also the feeling that it yearns to get back to its roots. Back to the Fringe. Back to the pub. One of the most moving moments was when the microphones were switched off for a folk finale. “So, fill to me the parting glass, good night and joy be to you all”.

The ninety minutes spent in the company of “The Choir of Man” has been overflowing with joy. It’s closing time, and we leave with music in our hearts and a smile on our face. And with the knowledge that, should we wish it, it will be opening time again tomorrow.


Reviewed on 13th October 2022

by Jonathan Evans

Photography by The Other Richard



Previously reviewed at this venue:


The Choir of Man | ★★★★★ | November 2021



Click here to read all our latest reviews


Knights of the Rose – 3 Stars


Knights of the Rose

Arts Theatre

Reviewed – 5th July 2018


“The show did not give off a slick West End musical vibe, rather it radiated a pantomime like energy”


Knights of the Rose is a new musical created by Jennifer Marsden and directed by Racky Plews. The musical is a take on many of Shakespeare’s romances mashed together to 80s pop rock, set in a Camelot style kingdom, with the focus characters being members of the house of Rose. Royalty and knights alike.

I arrived with no expectations for this show. My first thoughts, was that it seemed laboured. The show did not give off a slick West End musical vibe, rather it radiated a pantomime like energy. With laughter arriving in unexpected places, I was unsure if it was supposed to be funny, or if the corniness of the music became too much for the audience. However the cheesiness of 80s pop rock, was matched well in some moments with the melodramatic Shakespearean style and narrative. The story mashed up all of Shakespeare’s great love stories, and threw in some Macbeth and Lord Byron. The literary references were a nice concept, however occasionally executed sloppily. An ailment that plagued a few different aspects of the musical.

I was surprised to find out after I’d seen the show, that it was created and directed by women. As the narrative was so male centric, and the most empowering moment for the three main female roles, was when they sang ‘Holding out for a Hero’ – a song about finding a man. However, the performances by the three main women, Katie Birtill, Rebekah Lowings and Bleu Woodward, who played Princess Hannah, Lady Isabel and Emily respectively were fantastic. All three had a brilliant presence on stage and very powerful voices. And despite my qualms about the song, it was one of my favourite moments of the evening.

Andy Moss, Chris Cowley and Oliver Savile were worthy counterparts as Prince Gawain, Sir Palamon and Sir Hugo respectively providing a dark yet charming aura to the piece. A special mention has to be made for Matt Thorpe, Sir Horatio and Ruben Van Keer, John, who both portrayed very endearing characters with beautiful voices. Thorpe was particularly powerful in his number ‘Always’

The performance by the cast, and musicians was fantastic. However it was let down by the fact that I didn’t know what it was trying to do. And I don’t think the show did either. It had a lot of ideas, and almost falls into the trap of being ‘too much’, especially in production value in this case. All said and done It was an enjoyable evening, even if it doesn’t pass the Bechdel test.


Reviewed by Charlotte Hurford

Photography by Mark Dawson


Arts Theatre link

Knights of the Rose

Arts Theatre until 26th August



Click here to see more of our latest reviews on thespyinthestalls.com