Choir Boy, Bristol Old Vic Review

A thought-provoking story for modern times, at an exclusive all black, all boys, academy in the US, Pharus is a gifted singer and leader of the school’s choir. He is going to sing the solo at the school’s end of year assembly; he’s at the top of his game and impresses with his undoubted talent but from nowhere he is called out by a fellow student and taunted for his sexual orientation. What happens next not only to him but all his fellow students?

The protagonist of the taunts has his own problems, related to the headmaster he is facing some dark demons whilst trying to fit in with school boundaries and other pupils. The school has a tradition of gospel music and it’s this that holds the main stage. The boys sing in uplifting unison, moving props as they do so, taking the story forward. The play deals with entitlement, privilege, both coming of age and coming out, it’s a tall order but done with sensitivity and respect. All power to Tarell Alvin McCraney who wrote the story with the school at its heart whose raison d’être is to help students grow into “strong ethical black men” but although Pharus holds this ideal his orientation sets him apart and he struggles to gain acceptance whilst his talent drives him on.

There are strong performances from all the young cast, but in particular Terique Jarrett as Pharus and Alistair Nwachukwu as Bobby are outstanding, Daon Broni is a commanding presence as Headmaster Marrow, and Martin Turner as Mr Pendleton, a white teacher brought out of retirement to add another dimension to the boys’ thought processes, does well to be a quiet foil to let them express and debate their opposing views. The a cappella singing of gospel hymns and spirituals is beautifully done with intricate harmonies performed with ease. Despite the serious theme of the play there is laughter and light-heartedness to be had also.

This is an excellent production which I thoroughly enjoyed; the audience’s standing ovation at the end says it all.

Jacquie Vowles


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