Review by Carly Fisher
After walking through the beautiful old courtyard and doors of the Assembly Hall venue and into the grand theatre space there, you may not expect to see a bar full of beer and an audience worth of people on stage lining up to get some of it. And your expectation would normally be right…but not when you go to The Choir of Man.
I first saw the show in 2019 at the Sydney Opera House and loved it then. So I did know that I was in for a treat when I chose to head back into The Jungle - the fictional (maybe? Maybe not?) pub in which the show is set.
The Choir of Man first took to the stage at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2017 and its been on a non stop success train since then. It was nice to see them pay homage to their roots and to celebrate being back at the festival - ‘the place where it all began’, they say proudly.
The premise is simple - here is a group of 9 guys whose relationship to one another exists because they are all regulars at the same local pub. Where some pubs have darts or hockey teams, this pub, The Jungle, has a choir. And so the group sing and harmonise through a playlist of bangers - Chandelier, Escape (The Pina Colada Song), and more - all of which have the audience singing along, clapping and, at times, roaring with laughter.
What this show so expertly balances is the sense of fun and pub-like culture, with the important story that it seeks to convey. In a time where men’s mental health is still too often overlooked or not discussed, shows like this are vital. They are reminders of how important it is to have a place to go, to have a group of friends to talk to and to be a go-to listening ear. A big night out/getting drunk, well that’s an easy way to deal with life, the show reminds us, but there are better ways…and here is one of them. This tale of friendship is impactful and heartfelt and I would argue really resonates with many in the audience. Though a fun show, there is a lot of heart and spirit packed into the quick hour performance.
The show I saw previously was certainly longer and it would seem that this is a cut down version for the fringe - I wish that they had had more time because it went by way too quickly and the audience was definitely left wanting more as the number of songs was small for a concert like performance. All the same, what they did manage to squeeze in, was very well received. And it was lovely to see some of the same faces back on stage - always a treat to get to see long standing ensemble members show off their experience and commitment to the show - they remain exceptional performers.
The choreography of the piece, by Freddie Huddleston, is excellent with the cup choreography at the end being a certain highlight. I won’t ruin any of it by explaining it but this part of the show is certainly something to look forward to.
Another highlight was the inclusion of the Proclaimer’s hit I’m Gonna Be (500 miles). The experience of screaming out the lyrics to this song with hundreds of other people whilst in Scotland might not have been something that I knew I needed so much in my life, but I did…it was honestly, just awesome.
You’ll struggle not to smile ear to ear through this show. It is fun, lighthearted and yet packed with spirit. The voices are excellent, the harmonies executed to precision and the showmanship unparalleled.
There is a reason this show is an international success - it has struck the perfect chord as the consummate cabaret. Loved it a second time, doubt it will be my last time.
See it when it comes to a theatre or festival near you.