Situated in the heart of Seven Dials, the Arts Theatre has a long history of staging risky productions, once operating as a members only theatre club, it escaped the censors putting on plays such as 'Waiting for Godot' that weren't allowed in other theatres. Over the years I've enjoyed a variety of productions here; from Christmas specials, to the moving The Wipers Times, American Idiot starring the lovely Newton Faulkner, and the amusing Toxic Avenger the Musical. So I knew that this intimate London theatre would deliver something quirky and with quality.
I think that it's fair to say that the refurbishments that have started to the small theatre are needed, the floor was spongy in places and I could feel the springs of my seat coming through. If you are wanting West End glitz and glamour, this is not the theatre for you. Instead it has bundles of warmth and charm, and you can feel the love from the staff that work there for the theatre. They are pleased you've come, and they want you to enjoy the show.
This show starts with an invitation to the Jungle Bar (after purchasing tokens from the foyer bar, cost £5.50). This Jungle Bar is actually on the stage, where staff pour pints of beer and you can prop up the bar or sit at the tables on stage. It set the scene for what was about to unfold; people coming together socially for a while to enjoy each other's company and leave some of the world outside - the exact purpose of a public house.
After the actors interacted with the audience for a while, we returned to our seats and the show started with a bang. The opening song was always going to be 'Welcome to the Jungle', performed with gusto and energy by the 9 piece ensemble and 4 piece band.
There isn't a single story line to the evening, instead Ben Norris narrates things along but as a poet, introducing us to the pub choir - something a little different from the pub darts or pub football team. We learn a little of the all male casts' characters and why they might be seeking the company of other men in the Jungle.
This show is funny and high energy; random pints are poured and shared with the audience, bags of crisps are thrown, and a few are invited onto the stage to join the choir or be serenaded by a cast member. The show lasts around 90 minutes without an interval.
All of the cast can sing, dance (including an amazing tap from Jordan Oliver) and play instruments. But all of them are believable pub characters, and we got the impression that they are actually all firm friends by now in real life.
This production celebrates the pub as a social hub, the importance of male friendships, and the importance of men talking to each other for the sake of their mental health.
This is the ultimate antidote for colder autumn nights, you cannot fail to leave the Arts Theatre without warm glow inside, a smile on you face and a spring in your step.
Created by: Nic Doodson (also directing) and Andrew Kay
Cast: Michael Baxter, Matt Beveridge, Owen Bolton, Sam Ebenezer, Mark Irwin, Levi Tryrell Johnson, Lemul Knights, Lucas Koch, Matt Nalton, Ben Norris, Jordan Oliver, Gavin Ryan, Matt Thorpe.
Address: Great Newport Street, London, WC2H 7JB
Nearest Tube: Leicester Square (though I walked from Charing Cross)
Tickets from £22.50
Update: It’s nowhere near closing time at the best pub in the world!
After sell-out shows on its return to the West End, THE CHOIR OF MAN extends bookings to 28th May 2023