A night at the pub might not seem like the most obvious choice to build a show around, but it is such an institution for so many Brits, and indeed people all over the world, it seems like an obvious topic considering how accessible and relatable it is for so many. That is exactly what The Choir of Man have done with their show, now running in the West End. I must admit I had my reservations when I first read about this show, but that changed when I watched a small section of the show at West End Live back in September. It left me excited to see the full production but would I love a whole show the same way I did a quick 15 minute section, or would the novelty wear off?
The Choir of Man converts the stage of the Arts Theatre into a fully functioning pub (though with a perhaps limited menu). As you take your seats before the show starts, the cast welcome you on to the stage to give you your first drink on the house. I was utterly charmed before the show even started and couldn't help but grin from ear to ear as members of the audience interacted, played games and had a drink with the cast.
The show is set across one night in a pub as nine punters, all with their own characteristics, share things they are going through and, of course, sing about it. Immediately, you realise there is far more than meets the eye to The Choir of Man which sets to challenge stereotypes of what "masculinity" is and add depth to the reasons why people love a night at their local. References to the pandemic really cement the importance of community and how much it was missed while everything stood still during the lockdowns.
The night is held together by Ben Norris as "the Poet" who segues everything together, introducing his fellow pub-goers and saying some beautiful monologues, written by him. Ultimately, this is a show full of surprises. A show where you are encouraged to take all of your preconceptions and leave them at the door. Whatever you think The Choir of Man is, it isn't. At this pub, beer isn't the only thing on tap - as a tap-dancing routine seemingly comes out of nowhere to blow the audience away.
I'm usually not a fan of audience interaction, but I couldn't help but enjoy the moments where audience members were plucked out of their seats to join in on stage to hilarious effect. Be it one lady being the centrepiece of showstopping number 'Escape (The Piña Colada Song)' or when Richard Lock as The Beast serenaded one lady with a stripped down 'Teenage Dream'. The use of the staging is inspired with the classic 'Under The Bridge' being performed straight-faced at a urinal - yes, you heard that right. It's not as crass it sounds though. Another genius moment sees them firing bags of crisps at the audience with a catapult. The show should come with a warning though as I did get smacked in the face by a flying beer mat, but I was enjoying myself so much, I don't care even if I may have an imprint of the shows name on my forehead this morning. Unexpected moments like these are what The Choir of Man do best - creating sequences you think wouldn't work but really do.
What really cements The Choir of Man as an incredible piece of theatre is the music. The talent on that stage is nothing short of sensational, and the songs that are picked are phenomenal. One highlight was a beautiful rendition of Sia's 'Chandelier' while a surprising inclusion of 'Dance With My Father' from Luther Vandross was an incredibly moving moment. Miles Anthony Daley as The Romantic stunned with his take on Adele's 'Hello', Mark Day as The Barman enjoys one of the highlights of the night taking on Queen's 'Somebody To Love' while George Bray as The Maestro tackled an iconic Proclaimers number (you know the one) in a way you've never heard it before. Just when you think you can't be in any more awe of their talent, they end the night fully acapella with their microphones switched off ensuring you leave the theatre with goosebumps. It doesn't stop with the singing either, with the cast playing instruments or finding novel uses for props on stage to turn them into instruments. They are backed by a fantastic four-piece band who really make the songs come alive on stage.
The calibre of theatre since everything reopened has been so ridiculously high. It seems impossible like a little show like The Choir of Man could compete with the likes of Back To The Future and Frozen but, you know what? It really does. I truly believe this is one of the best shows in the West End at the moment. Perhaps it packs more of a punch post-pandemic as we realise the true importance of community and our local pubs (even if, like me, a night at the pub really isn't your thing). This show is a flawlessly crafted piece of theatre - unique, immersive and the epitome of pure joy.
If it doesn't sound like your cup of tea (or pint of beer), give it a go. Trust me - you will come out of there having experienced the most surprising but most rewarding night at the theatre. Hilarious, heartwearming and full of surprises, I really couldn't have loved The Choir of Man more if I tried. One thing's for sure, when it comes to visiting this show, I'll definitely be a regular.
The Choir of Man plays at the Arts Theatre until February 13th 2022. Tickets from choirofmanwestend.com