entertainment

The Choir of Man review: 'An unexpected pleasure'

The raucous and rowdy West End musical at the Arts Theatre delivers the community spirit we so desperately need right now.

2021-11-16

Words: Simon Button; Photography: Helen Maybanks

Part musical but mostly a concert, The Choir of Man is an unexpected pleasure.

There’s no plot to speak of: A bunch of blokes gather in a local boozer for a rowdy singsong, interspersed with a bit of poetry to fill in their backstories. There’s no changing scenery, no flashing lights, no big dramatic reveals.

But the show has one great tune after another and the nine-strong cast who deliver them are simply amazing, stomping their feet and singing up a storm in a loving homage to community spirit. As an added bonus, they’re all rather attractive and they also hand out free pints from the stage’s fully working bar, ensuring the audience is suitably tipsy.

Miles Anthony Daley (centre) and the cast of The Choir of Man (Photography: Helen Maybanks)

They’re archetypes, from The Poet (Ben Norris, who wrote the monologues himself), The Pub Bore (Tyler Orphé-Baker) and The Hard Man (Tom Brandon) to The Joker (Daniel Harnett). The Romantic (Miles Anthony Daley) and The Handyman (Freddie Huddleston).

Alistair Higgins is particularly engaging as the piano-playing Maestro who refashions The Proclaimers’ 'I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)' as a classical piece, Mark Loveday’s Barman has great fun speak-singing 'Escape (The Pina Colada Song)' as a Cockney geezer, and Richard Lock’s long-haired Beast shows a tender side as he serenades a masked audience member to a stripped-down 'Teenage Dream'.

The harmonies are extraordinary, the song choices eclectic (one minute you get Luther Vandross’s beautiful 'Dance With My Father', the next it’s Queen’s rousing 'Somebody to Love'), the choreography especially brilliant when the drumbeat on Paul Simon’s '50 Ways to Leave Your Lover' is done as a tap dance.

Mark Loveday (centre) in The Choir of Man (Photography: Helen Maybanks)

There was also one truly hilarious moment at the performance I saw when three of the cast stood at a urinal singing 'Under the Bridge', complete with loudly running water, and many tanked-up audience members rushed to the loo. (Well, it is a 90-minute show with no interval!)

Some of the songs are a bit obscure and it’s distracting to have the mob reacting to a sports event on an imaginary TV during a poignant rendition of Adele’s 'Hello'

But since debuting at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2017, The Choir of Man has taken on extra resonance. This salute to the life-enhancing value of a communal experience means so much more now, whether it’s in a spruced-up LGBTQ+ bar or a spit-and-sawdust local. Cheers! 

Rating: 4/5

The Choir of Man is at the Arts Theatre, London. For tickets, click here.