Tag Archives: Sam Ebenezer

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


Jack and the Beanstalk

Jack and the Beanstalk



Jack and the Beanstalk

Jack and the Beanstalk

Online and in cinemas

Reviewed – 3rd December 2020



“The witty jokes, jolly songs and dazzling costumes all combine to provide a show for the whole family to enjoy”


There’s no denying it’s been a tough year, and the hardships the theatre industry has endured cannot be understated. With so much uncertainty, it was touch and go as to whether we’d be able to enjoy a traditional pantomime this year. A small number of theatres are going to be performing panto to much smaller audiences than they’re used to and some are going online, so we can enjoy a bit of light-hearted entertainment from home this festive season. Filmed over the summer on sets in the writer and director’s own back garden, Jack and the Beanstalk is one such online alternative. Peter Duncan, former Blue Peter presenter, actor and theatre and film maker, presents an hour and a half of the fun, energetic antics we have all come to expect from this uniquely British tradition.

We first see a family at home where a little girl receives a parcel – a Jack and the Beanstalk story book – and we are then transported into the world of the story and the girl’s imagination. This is an engaging introduction and should really captivate the children who are watching from the outset.

The show begins and the Garden Fairy appears in a bold, bright costume. As with live pantos, we are encouraged to interact early on and, in this case, “shout at the screen”. We are introduced to an array of quirky characters including Jack (Sam Ebenezer), Dame Trott (played by Peter Duncan himself), Giant Blunderbore (Yuval Shwartsman), who spends his time terrorising the villagers from above, and his dogsbody Fleshcreepy (Jos Vantyler), amongst other characters. All actors commit well to their roles, are entertaining to watch and supported by an energetic ensemble.

Throughout the story are timely, light-hearted references to the current Coronavirus pandemic including a song about lockdown at the start and plastic screens used for the characters’ romantic embraces at the end of the show.

Costumes (David Morgan) are everything you would expect from a traditional panto, from the over the top dame outfit to the dainty dress worn by the female lead. The design of Giant Blunderbore is particularly effective. We see him towards the end of the show, having only heard his bellowing voice before then.

Jack and the Beanstalk is performed in the traditional panto style audiences will be familiar with. The witty jokes, jolly songs and dazzling costumes all combine to provide a show for the whole family to enjoy. Nothing can beat the feeling of being in a theatre and seeing a live production, but the cast and creative team have done tremendously well in their attempts to replicate this feeling for us – catch it while you can.


Reviewed by Emily K Neal



Jack and the Beanstalk

Online via www.pantoonlne.co.uk and at Everyman Cinemas from 4th December. At Showcase cinemas from 11th December




Click here to see our most recent reviews