CITIZENS THEATRE, GLASGOW
The Choir, a new play with songs, written by actor Paul Higgins and Deacon Blue frontman Ricky Ross, is part of a trend, almost a new movement, in Scottish musical theatre. It comes hot on the heels of Lee Hall’s Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour for the National Theatre of Scotland and in the midst of the music-led, multi-arts Sound Festival in Aberdeenshire.
Directed by Dominic Hill, acclaimed artistic director of Glasgow’s Citizens Theatre, and co-produced with the Ambassador Theatre Group, its premiere in Scotland is clearly made with an eye on a possible London transfer and/or a UK tour. Whether it deserves one is another matter.
Don’t get me wrong, the production, in which a community choir is launched in a municipal hall in the Lanarkshire town of Wishaw, has much to commend it. Well sung, sometimes excellently acted, it is an often funny and unashamedly humane piece of theatre.
Ross and Higgins have written some nice, if unmemorable, songs and Higgins’s book zips along in its funnier moments. However, things tail off somewhat following the carefully constructed first act, in which we are introduced to a diverse set of 12 characters, ranging from Khalid, an exiled Iraqi surgeon, to Jean, a former Tory councillor.
In the second half, these pen portraits turn into more defined characters and, crucially, more developed relationships. It soon becomes clear that the piece is heavily overloaded.
As a consequence of the drama’s cumbersome structure, one moment of conflict (spoiler alert: Scott Reid’s excellently combustible young shop worker, takes exception to a gesture by George, retired businessman and husband of Jean) must be the catalyst for a whole series of damaging revelations and arguments.
If the sudden, melodramatic meltdown of the choir is decidedly improbable, its rising, phoenix-like, from the ashes is almost unpalatably sentimental. The play descends into a kind of pastiche Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, where people confess, not their addiction to booze, but their personal shortcomings.
One need not be as cynical and hard-bitten as Jamie McDonald (Higgins’s foul-mouthed spin doctor in BBC sitcom The Thick of It) to find the play’s denouement both predictable and sickly sweet. The opening night standing ovation was testament to the superb choral performances of the ensemble, but one has doubts as to whether The Choir has what it takes to become an enduring work of musical theatre.
Until November 14. For more information, visit: citz.co.uk
This review was originally published on the website of the Daily Telegraph on November 2, 2015
© Mark Brown