When I went to see the Choir of Man in the festival-like setting of Wonderground on the site of the old Earls Court Exhibition Centre I was expecting some rollicking good tunes belted out by charismatic men, and perhaps a bit of dancing. What I wasn’t expecting was the superb, poignant, poetic writing that strings everything together and transforms the show into more than just a medley of songs.
The talent behind the script is slam poet Ben Norris, who also performs the role of narrator. He’s brought the work right up to date with poetic references to the situation we find ourselves in that bought a tear to my eye. He describes the pub as “the people’s front room … a place we feel known, to raise our glasses to being no longer alone” or when talking of the camaraderie to be found in the pub: “throwing the doors of yourself open and having someone else throw open theirs – that’s a bar – and it’s ours.”
The stage is a transformed into a pub called the Jungle, with a working bar (the performers serve pints to members of the audience before the show starts), bar stools and tables. Ben introduces us to each man in the bar and gives us a little of their personality and character, which will come out later when they get their solos. There’s the pub Bore (Matthew Hobbs), who sings like Pavarotti, Mark the barman (Mark Loveday) who’s unhappy with his long-term partner, Casanova (Matthew Beveridge) who’s had an emotional breakup, the gentle “Beast” (Ed Tunningley) who plays acoustic guitar, Hardman (Curtis Scott) a bodybuilder, the Joker (Daniel Hartnett) who likes to play tricks and Tapper (Keith Henderson) who breaks out into tap dance during Fifty Ways To Leave Your Lover, and Piano Man (Zami Jalil) who plays a fantastic rendition of the Proclaimers “I Would Walk 500 Miles” on the piano.
The choreography is tight and at times theatrical, with a slow-motion scene when Beveridge sings Adele’s Hello and a complex glass-tapping group dance to Fun’s “Some Nights”. The music swiftly moves between emotional ballads, such as Sinatra’s “The Impossible Dream” (sung with emotional intensity by Hobbs) to silly pop, such as Rupert Holmes Pina Colada song (one audience member ends up with a glass of Pina colada when the song ends). And with Norris’s fine verse spinning everything together, there is never a dull moment.
If you’ve been missing the camaraderie of the pub and the exhilaration of live performance, then this show will satisfy both needs. You’ll want to gulp it down as quickly as the beer.