"You walk into the theatre," says Nic Doodson, "and we give you the feeling of walking into a pub somewhere in England or Ireland or Scotland. As soon as you walk in the door everyone turns around and looks at you. And you realise you’ve walked into a place where everyone knows each other, but with a big smile on their face they pat you on the back and put a drink in your hand.”
Although The Choir of Man very much designed to be a pub straight out of the English countryside, Doodson – co-producer and director – isn’t worried about the Australian audiences feeling out of place. "The English pub culture translates very well all over the world. And that’s not because it’s in a pub or because it’s drinking, but because at its best English pub culture is about camaraderie and about friendship. It’s about a local place of meeting to share stories and to share good times and bad times and that translates wherever you are."
UK slam poet Ben Norris hosts the night as the audience learn of nine boys’ heartbreaks and misfortunes, each followed by a musical number. From Katy Perry to John Farnham, the performers show vocal, instrumental and dance talent across the stage.
Underlying the high energy singing and dancing is a potent message of the importance of men having a safe space to speak their minds. "Men are not culturally encouraged to talk about problems, or talk about when we’re having a hard time, or talk about depression. And we definitely acknowledge that, and we definitely talk about that, and we definitely talk about the role. Not of the physical structure of the pub, but the role of a place to do that."
As a comparison, Doodson also mentions the Australian Men’s Shed Association. Although a shed is a different kind of space to a pub – one where men can work on projects – the construct of the association's movement is the same in encouraging open discussion and support: "men don’t talk face to face, they talk shoulder to shoulder.
"There’s a lot I think that is useful to be said about men in a pub. Especially in this day and age of #metoo I think that it’s interesting to investigate what men are like together and not just the stereotype of ‘locker room’ chat, for example." Doodson believes that creating a positive message about support for one another is important. "Men are not all like that and certainly a lot of them aren’t. It’s about acknowledging male camaraderie and male support for each other but in a genuine way."