If you watch the online trailer for The Choir Of Man, you’d probably think the show was about a load of blokey blokes in beards singing big, anthemic singalong songs in an Irish pub set somewhere in Camden Town or Kilburn and to a certain extent you’d be right, but this is much more than that mainly due to the between-songs monologues from The Narrator, Ben Norris. Ben is an award-winning slam poet and it’s his homespun, philosophy, specially tailored to the current pandemic world we’re living in, that raises the show to a higher level than just being sixty minutes of beer-fuelled, pub singalong although there may be an element of that as the cast give out free beer to the audience before the show begins!
Set in “The Jungle”, an old-fashioned pub with a bar, a sticky floor, rickety tables and chairs, stained beermats and an upright piano and aptly the first song is the Guns & Roses anthem “Welcome To The Jungle”. As Ben tells us, most pubs have a football team or a darts team – The Jungle has a choir. During the show, Ben introduces us to the rest of the choir of pub regulars, all of whom have a personality of their own. There’s Mark the barman (Mark Loveday) who dispenses the drinks, Casanova (Matt Beveridge) who’s just split up with his partner, The Beast (Ed Tunnigley) who plays gentle acoustic guitar and sings like an angel so isn’t a beast at all. Then there’s (not so) Hardman (Curtis Scott) a “bodybuilder”, Joker (Daniel Hartnett), Tapper (Keith Henderson) who does a superb “Stomp” like tap routine to “Fifty Ways To Leave Your Lover” plus Bore (Matthew Hobbs) and Pianoman (Zami Jalil) who plays delightful classical music on the pub’s piano.
On the subject of instruments, whilst there is live guitar, banjo, trumpet, fiddle and the aforementioned piano, most of the accompaniment for the singers uses backing tracks which in the context of the show, works really well. There’s also the banging of pint glasses and trays to give the sound some percussive power.
The twelve or so songs vary from “The Impossible Dream” to The Proclaimer’s “Five Hundred Miles” taking in “The Pina Colada Song”, and even Adelle’s “Hello” so it’s an interesting and sometimes unexpected mix from big ballads to big, football stadium anthems. There of course is some singing along but it’s not on every song and the ballads
and the poetic monologues make for a well-rounded evening. There is some audience participation but due to covid restrictions, this is very limited. Under normal circumstances, I’m sure the audience would have joined in dancing on the pub tables and the bar along with the cast but unfortunately, not at the moment.
Created by Nic Doodson who produces and directs, The Choir Of Man has become a bit of a phenomenon with productions in Australia, USA and the UK. In fact, currently, apart from the London company, you can see a version of the show in Coventry and Cleveland Ohio!
The London production takes place in the new home of the London Wonderground in Earls Court (it was previously on the South Bank) in the iconic purple cow that is the Underbelly. It’s well worth a visit as there are also fairground rides, a good selection of street food and bars as well as shows in the Underbelly such as this.
The Choir Of Man is a raucous, uplifting and life-affirming way to lift the spirits. In just an hour, you’ll laugh, sing, applaud and maybe even shed a tear but you’ll have a wonderful time, and you’ll leave the auditorium singing your heart out and thinking that after months of lockdown, there is some kind of normality out there – even if it’s in a tent in the guise of a big, upside-down purple cow with udders!
Review by Alan Fitter
This vocal extravaganza, set in a working pub, complete with beer taps and bar-stools, presents a nine-strong, all-singing cast of world-class tap dancers, poets, instrumentalists and singers, to provide a musically stunning spin on a rich set-list of favourite pub anthems, from sing-along classics to familiar rock ballads.
The Choir of Man, known internationally as “the ultimate feel-good show” has the perfect recipe for a legendary night out at the pub: hair-raising harmonies, high-energy dance, live percussion, and foot-stomping choreography. Belting out pub tunes, folk, rock, choral and Broadway numbers, these nine handsome guys cover everyone’s favourite anthem. Taking the audience on a journey of harmony and comradeship, conviviality and cheer, this life affirming show is the perfect tonic after a long tough year. The hosts are ready, the doors are open, the drinks are on tap and the music flows freely for this, the best pub gig ever, mulitiplied by one hundred.
LONDON WONDERGROUND EARLS COURT
Empress Place, Earls Court, London SW6 1TT
The Choir of Man
Time: 8pm (Tues – Sat), 7.30pm (Sun), 5pm (Sat), 10.10pm (Fri)
Venue: The Udderbelly
Dates: 15 July – 5 September 2021