Choir Boy, Bristol Old Vic

ONE of the soundest pieces of advice a potential author can receive is “write about something you know”. And theatrically, Bristol Old Vic’s artistic director Nancy Medina has taken that advice in choosing Choir Boy, first seen in 2012 at London’s Royal Court Theatre, for her first outing as a director since taking charge of the Vic.

Written by Tarell Alvin McCraney, who went on to pick up an Academy Award for his contribution to the 2016 film Moonlight, the play obviously left a big impression on Nancy Medina, who fell in love with it at first sight and now takes her earliest opportunity to offer it to a Bristol audience.

Almost all of the excited packed Press Night audience were willing Nancy to succeed, and it was they, rather than the few who get enjoyment from witnessing a disaster on these occasions, who enjoyed the evening. She took a story of young men bursting into adulthood and all the pressures and problems that brings mentally and physically, which in differing ways has been examined many times before. Through the creation of believable characters they made the audience sit up and show concern for the future of this group. Between them they brought out all the physical and mental problems that beset boys of that age – some because of a natural rebellious streak, others finding it impossible to conform.

Between the music and Tarell McCraney’s crisp mixture of quick wit and high drama dialogue, there was plenty of ammunition for the players to exploit, and with Daon Broni’s finely poised Headmaster and Martin Turner, as untidy in mind and body as Daon was highly polished, to act as sounding boards, most of McCraney’s bullets hit their target.

Nancy Medina, with the aid of musical director Femmi Temowo and composer Donato Wharton, incorporated beautifully sung, unaccompanied Gospel and Spiritual songs, which often proved to be show-stoppers. Michael Ahomka-Lindsay ad David, Khalid Daley as JR, Terique Jarrett as Pharus, Jyuddah Jaymes as AJ and Alistair Nwachukwua as Bobby, combined to make an excellent team of schoolboys and fine vocal group.

Set and costume designer Max Johns’ simple, but effective set, which served as a class room in a school for African Americans and the bedroom of one of the pupils, opened up with the simple lifting of a back cloth to reveal the shower room of the gym, and the smart green blazers and fawn trousers of the pupils told us immediately that this was no neglected downtown academy where the pupils were at constant war with the teaching staff.

Nancy Medina can be well pleased with her first outing as a director and the company drew a fulsome response from the audience, which they will hope to be repeated each night between now and Saturday 11th November when the run finishes.


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