Review: The Choir of Man (Arts Theatre)

Originating from a successful run at Edinburgh Fringe in 2017, this musical created by Nic Doodson and Andrew Kay probably has more heart and soul than any other West End show.

There are eight regular punters and the barman in a pub called The Jungle (beautifully designed by Oli Townsend). While some drinking establishments have football or darts teams, this one has a choir: The Choir of Man.

And that’s it, really. By performing many popular songs we know, each man (The Poet, The Handyman, The Joker, The Bore, The Romantic, The Beast, The Hardman and The Maestro) gets to share a bit of themselves. They are not just singers and actors, but musicians too, adding a boost to the four-person band above.

Production photo for The Choir of Man

As numbers by artists as diverse as Adele, Queen, Paul Simon, Luther Vandross, John Farnham and Rupert Holmes are interspersed with rhyming monologues, The Choir of Man celebrates friendship, community and the street corner pub.

The team of nine (all three swings were on this afternoon in the roles of Joker (James Hudson), Beast (Peter Lawrence) and Barman (Niall Woodson) respectively) gel together in a perfect choral blend, and Poet (Michael Hamway), Romantic (Luke Conner Hall) and Barman are notable solo standouts.

This is a very physical show, with lots of jumping, dancing (Ben Goffe as Handyman shows a notable gift for tap), and closely choreographed musical numbers (Freddie Huddleston directs all the movement in this show which is slick and perfectly planned).

Audience participation is key to The Choir of Man. Buying a drinks token will get you a pre-show beer at the working bar on stage, while audience members are invited onstage at other points (Bore (Andrew J Carter)’s “The Impossible Dream” sits against a feat of dexterity; the Barman’s wife gets a cameo and a dance).

It’s all done in good humour. Rules set on posters as you head into the auditorium allow you to take photos, but ask you to keep your hands to yourself. These lads are working, after all, and they are a very accomplished ensemble.

This is a very family-friendly show (real pubs are usually stuffed with riper language), and even though there may be more serious moments, it’s largely a show to class as ‘feelgood’ while saying it is good for men to talk and support each other.

You can sing along, too, despite Maestro (Michele Maria Benvenuto) trying to stop “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)” from descending into raucousness. And although Hardman (Adam Bayjou) seems at first glance a typical pub brawler, his tenor tones say otherwise.

And Poet’s “Dance With My Father” may break the heart of anyone who has lost their dad (it did mine).

Currently booking at the Arts Theatre until February 2024 (details here), The Choir of Man considers what is home for us and for each actor – partnering with mental health charity CALM who you can support here.


Production image credit: The Other Richard

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