Norton James and the joy of The Choir of Man

by | Jan 8, 2024

Straight form London’s West End, The Choir of Man has been a juggernaut since its original opening at Edinburgh Fringe in August 2017. The show consists of a wildly talented group of instrumentalists, world-class wordsmiths and sensational singers; this cast of nine guys serve it all… live!

Performer, Norton James, has been a member of The Choir of Man family for the last 5 years which has allowed him the pleasure of travelling all over the world with this incredible story. “It’s a show that allows you to be you, show your strengths and vulnerabilities and also welcome audiences in without the 4th wall,” he says. “The bond between each cast I have ever performed with is different which always keeps the show exciting, and I truly believe in the messages we tell through the show.”

James explains the show began around 6 years ago as part of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland. The show was 9 guys, 50 minutes, a small stage with pretty much just a bar and a backcloth. Now, he says, they are working with two level sets, an 80-minute show and a group of musicians that are all also members of the pub! But with that said the show is so adaptable for each space that it is presented in. The show is constantly evolving as it’s a piece that isn’t directly set in a certain year or time frame and each cast member brings their own flair.

In this production James is one of the swings covering “The Best” & “The Pub Bore” – two very different characters only similar in their vocal ranges. “The character who I relate to is the beast, he’s a big friendly giant. A big guy with a soft heart, a builder by trade but who reads poetry in the evening. I feel in my day-to-day life this is how I am so it’s nice to just be myself on stage, he is also the main guitarist within the cast and playing guitar has always been a big part of my life”

It’s a show that subtly challenges conventional notions of masculinity by creating a space where emotions are expressed – there are real moments of vulnerability where cast members open up about their struggles and experiences

“Men’s mental health is a huge topic that we cover during the show,’ says James. “We are saying that it is ok to not be ok, but it’s also ok to ask for help and support. Men have always been afraid to speak up and show vulnerability and we are trying to spread the message that you can. We say in the show ‘sometimes its 5 pints and forget about, but sometimes its 2 teas and a talk and that’s ok’ and that message has stuck with me ever since I first started performing with Choir of Man.”

James enjoys sharing their story and message with the masses. “It truly is an honour! One of my favourite moments is when someone will come up to us after the show who isn’t usually a theatregoer or has been brought along by their significant other not expecting to enjoy it but ends up having the best night. So many people relate as its either very similar to their own local pub, characters similar to their friend group or even just a memory of a night out that has stuck in their head.”

James has been with the show since 2018 and was the second ever cast. James says the show has evolved and changed so much in material, substance, topics spoken about and also venues in which its performed. “The show is not exactly challenging as it’s so enjoyable. We pride ourselves on being truthful and giving you an honest version of ourselves on stage. The most challenging part would be 8 shows a week as the show is exhausting physically and vocally.”

Touring is a major part of the show and, for James an amazing experience. “I’ve been lucky enough to be taken all over the world with the show and have performed in some absolutely incredible venues and countries! Some of which were fringe festivals which is harder as you not only perform but also look after your own costumes, build and take down the set and help in promoting the show on ground level. But also, those festivals are so of the most fun just being surrounded by constant creativity and positive energy. Adelaide Fringe/Sydney Opera House are up there with one of my favourite venues and contracts.”

Since its humble beginnings, the show has since gone to be an Olivier nominated sensation and has been touring globally ever since enjoying sell out seasons almost everywhere it has performed.

James believes audiences love it because it’s honest – no frills, no gimmicks just honest theatre. With the cast playing themselves and using their real names on stage James feels the audience connect on a different level – if you came to the show numerous times and saw different casts you would actually see a completely different version of the same material.

While James did know a few of the cast embers before and had worked with nearly half of them on previous occasions, the cast did spend time in rehearsals building ‘their jungle’ where they got time to actually connect and get to know each other as friends. “This goes from jamming on lunchbreaks to group trips to the pub (research obviously) but genuinely on this contract we have such a lovely group of people who are just here to enjoy themselves and put on the best show possible.”

James’ most recent tours have been with Jersey Boys and Spamalot but says some inspiration to perform was drawn from his dad who trained as an actor when he was younger and toured for a few years before settling down to have a family. “They have always supported me in wanting to perform but also allowed me to explore other options. When I was younger, I played rugby for around 15 years and that was originally what I wanted to do until the performer in me took over.”

The Choir of man is about music, mates and good times. Says James, “The Jungle is for everyone, a safe place to laugh, cry, sing, dance, drink and smile. Its unapologetically unique and has something for everyone. There is nothing more that we like than to share our story and make people happy. So come and join us for a pint the first round is on us!”

Running till February 11

artscentremelbourne.com.au

Image: Danysha Harriott

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