****.5 stars

While many Melbourne revellers took to bars and pubs for New Year’s Eve, this reviewer went along to ‘The Jungle’, a make-believe pub which serves as the setting for The Choir of Man, playing for the next two weeks in the Playhouse at the Arts Centre. This show centres around nine mates in a pub somewhere in the UK – who, together, form a pub choir. Over 90 minutes, we are treated to all manner of musical madness, from Sia’s ‘Chandelier’ to John Farnham’s ‘You’re the Voice’, there is a tune here for everyone.

This show was less narrative, more celebration. Having the pleasure of attending on New Year’s Eve, there was a real excitable hum in the air, the Playhouse feeling like it could have been transformed into a real pub full of friends, for an evening.

Each member of the ensemble was given his moment in the spotlight – everyone on stage more than earning their place. All nine men were strong vocalists, as well as many of them being multi-instrumentalists. Everyone got a solo of some sort, and each man brought their own unique energy and character to life before us.

There truly were no low points in this production. Every song was as good or better than the one before, and everyone gave everything they had in each number. It was wildly entertaining to watch, and it wasn’t long before audience members were clapping and tapping along with just as much enthusiasm as those on stage.

Something unexpected, yet heart-warming about The Choir of Man was the continual exploration of a softer kind of masculinity. This show had all the trappings of a macho extravaganza – set in a traditional pub with plenty of beer flowing, the night could have easily gone in a different direction. Instead, what we are treated to are nine creative, sensitive and gregarious men. They sing heartfelt love songs, tap dance, play the violin, clarinet, Bodhran, and deliver earnest, optimistic monologues without a hint of irony.

It was refreshing to see an all-male ensemble give us a 90 minute performance where the characters seemed to truly care for and support one another. Our main orator, George, spoke of it being “Okay for men to cry”, and of the sanctity of places such as pubs as places for friends and loved ones to gather. The camaraderie created in the room was something one rarely gets to experience in a theatre – but it’s always a treat when you do.

For a raucous, lively, and at times surprisingly sentimental night out, you could do far worse than heading down to the local and experiencing some pub choir magic.

Performance: 4.5       Direction: 4

Musical Direction: 5     Set/costume: 4   Sound/lighting: 4.5