I had the good fortune of catching The Choir of Man in Edinburgh last summer, their debut year at the Fringe. At that time, I loved it. I thought it beautiful, insightful, and thoroughly moving. Therefore, I jumped at the chance to see them this year, this time adorned with my reviewer’s cap. Even after a year’s worth of anticipation, the nine-man choir did not disappoint.
Set in a traditional British pub, the stage for The Choir of Man comes equipped with no less than a fully-functioning bar. Although quite simple, the set is beautifully designed, finding a perfect balance between having the cosy, oak-wood feel of an old-fashioned pub, and being roomy enough to accommodate nine men leaping about the stage. The Jungle is our ‘local for tonight’, the boys tell us, before launching into a nine-part rendition of Guns N’ Roses’ Welcome to the Jungle. They create the most enormous sound, filling the space entirely: bass notes vibrate inside your chest and falsetto pierces your heart. From this moment on, the sound never dies; the air hums with music as each note is perpetuated by the acoustics of the Music Hall.
The choir perform popular hit songs in their unique style with signature boyish charm, each rendition performed as perfectly as the last. Indeed, The Choir of Man is so overwhelming because it is absolutely flawless in its execution – not a single note is missed or toe put out of line, an impressive level of accomplishment for a large ensemble performing musical and physical theatre.
The songs are interspersed with spoken-word poetry so subtle you might miss it. This narration, made all the more charming by our storyteller’s cheerful Irish lilt, introduces the cast as the nine caricatures of every group of pub locals – the heartbroken one, the joker, the grumpy one with the heart of gold. The lines blur performance and reality: it isn’t hard to believe that the cast are old friends, mates who met at the pub in the evenings to talk, laugh and sing together.
Ultimately, what makes The Choir of Man so sensational is its ability to bring together musical excellence and lighthearted theatre into something spell-binding. Not only are the vocals of each and every man sublime, but they make it look effortless as they sprang across the stage, belting with a fierce passion. Some of the musical direction is extraordinarily innovative, with a shining example being Huddleston’s percussive tap dance right across the stage (including the top of the bar, one must acknowledge!) which keeps the beat as the rest sing Paul Simon’s 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover.
A show full of cheeky charm and charisma, the cast appear to have as much fun as the audience. It is impossible to not leave the room smiling, and I for one will be eagerly awaiting Choir of Man’s return to the Fringe in 2019.
The Choir of Man
Assembly Rooms – Music Hall
Runs until 26th August
Photo credit: Chris Cann Photography