Book and Lyrics: Paul Higgins
Music and Lyrics: Ricky Ross
Director: Dominic Hill
Reviewer: Lauren Humphreys
An Iraqi cardiac specialist, a teen on a zero hours contract at Sports Direct, a Tory ex-councillor, an unemployed graduate, an ex-con and a struggling single mum are among the 12 people who come together in a community centre in Wishaw, North Lanarkshire, in Paul Higgins and Ricky Ross’ new musical The Choir, a collaboration between theatrical giants ATG and the Citizens Theatre to nurture new musical theatre from local writers and composers.
There’s no competition, no race to a prize. Instead, the drama comes from the interactions between this disparate chorus. The seemingly uplifting subject matter is initially turned on its head when instead of the sense of community and togetherness they hope to invoke by their shared love of singing, the sociological and political differences between the group rear their ugly heads. Those who exercise free will provoke those with conventional sensibilities and seemingly simple things offend and outrage.
It all gets off to a spine-tingling start as Peter Polycarpou’s Khalid steps centre stage to sing the first of a series of intensely personal songs and the cast as a whole doesn’t disappoint. Glorious sounding en masse, there isn’t a weak link among them and, while it seems churlish to single any out, it is undoubtedly Ryan Fletcher as ex-con Donny and Scott Reid as little cousin Scott, who shine. Fletcher, in particular, is a stand-out, in possession of a glorious voice and a prodigious musical talent, it is for him you root for a happy ending.
Eschewing the musical theatre convention of bursting into song at will, here the songs arise naturally and realistically from the narrative and are entirely pleasing to the ear, partly due to the seeming familiarity of some of the melodies, with shades of Oasis, The Beach Boys and The Beatles to name a few.
If criticism is to be made it’s that the characterisations are thin in some cases and points are hammered home at times with little subtlety, but the actors’ deft touches manage to imbue it all with real heart and soul and you can’t help caring for them all and willing the whole thing to a happy conclusion.
It’s not exactly groundbreaking (it has at times the same feel and tone as Glen Hansard’s Once), but it has to be applauded for bringing something new to the musical theatre stage, not a film or novel adaptation, not a jukebox musical, instead an original story and songs with entirely relatable subject matter.
As an evening’s entertainment, it may not be perfect but it comes pretty damn close – on the whole it is a thoroughly engaging and utterly irresistible evening’s theatre. The Choir is guaranteed to send you into the crisp autumn air with the cockles of your heart well and truly warmed.
Runs until 14 November 2015 | Image: James Glossop