Thus this group of friends, this choir of men, are leading the charge with an array of songs (that on reflection mostly aren’t what you would think of as pub material that the lads get behind) in order to preserve their salubrious venue. There’s no shortage of audience interaction, particularly pre-show once the audience worked out that the bar on stage was real and plumbed to serve real alcohol.
Choir of Men works best when it’s exactly that: men singing in a choir. Indeed, the most affecting numbers are either those stripped right back – such as Adele’s Hello, or Sia’s Chandelier – or those bombastic numbers run head long into – like Rupert Holmes’ Escape (The Piña Colada Song), John Farnham’s You’re the Voice, or Queen’s Somebody to Love.
It’s the in-between stuff that doesn’t quite get purchase, where the choreography is either too muddled consisting of too many occasions where the guys dawdle toward the audience with arms outstretched in some kind of faux humble gesture as if to say, “This is simply me.” – or too on the nose as you realise that the only reason they’ve called their bar, The Jungle, is so they can open with Guns N’ Roses’ Welcome To The Jungle.
The piano and guitar see the bulk of the action on stage, but towards the end was a highlight when every member of the group picked up an instrument and played together, bringing to mind some of the jam sessions you might be fortunate to see at some Celtic bars even now.
Unfortunately, there were some other aspects of the show that didn’t quite sit so well: The regular refrain of gentle poetry, delivered spare and direct, harking back with longing to an easier, authentic time feels too often like the sort of over-mythologised nostalgia talk heard from any number of pro-Brexit delusionists.
Then there’s the vague question that lingers of what we don’t see (and I’m not talking about any women on stage, any race other than Caucasian, or any non-Heteros), which is where do these characters go at the end of the night, over-smashed and over-excited? The show is at its best when celebrating male friendship and love, not when it idolises alcohol as if there are no consequences.
As the character of Ruben’s mum says in the play, Ruben Guthrie, “It’s the drink, Ruben. It’s the drink. And no one steps in and says no more drinking, no one steps in and says that’s enough, no one steps in because you’re all too bloody scared to go without.”
Choir of Men certainly entertained, but you’ll possibly have to check your politics along with your coat to get the most enjoyment from it.
The Choir of Man
Playhouse – Arts Centre Melbourne, 100 St Kilda Road, Melbourne
Performance: Tuesday 31 December 2019 – 7.30pm
Season continues to 12 January 2020
Information and Bookings: www.artscentremelbourne.com.au
Following the Melbourne season, The Choir of Man head to Perth’s Fringe World from 17 January and Gluttony – Adelaide Fringe from 14 February 2020. For more information, visit: www.choirofman.com for details.
Image: The Choir of Man – photo by David and Chris Cann
Review: David Collins