The Choir– produced widely in Australia in the 1980s and it has been produced in Washington DC (1984), Ljubljana (1985), and London (2009). Nijinsky at Twilight – produced in 1998 by Theatre UpNorth with Australian ballet legend, Garth Welch, playing the older Nijinsky role. Many other plays have been produced by youth, community and independent companies.
In the 1980s “The Choir” had an exciting production history. The acclaimed premiere production (extended to 7 weeks) by Nimrod Theatre, Sydney (1981) also played a 6 week season at Playbox, Melbourne. There were also productions in 1981 at TN Theatre, Brisbane, and at Winter Theatre, Perth (with an all-female cast).
Overseas it was produced in 1983 at Glej Theatre, Ljubljana, Yugoslavia, and in 1984 at Woolly Mammoth Theater, Washington DC.
In 1987 the writer directed the play for Barnstorm Theatre for a Sydney season and tour to Adelaide. Daniel Lapaine played the lead role and Paul Capsis was the “singer”.
Reviews ranged from positive raves to condemnation - see following Review Sheets. The “topic” of the play is institutional abuse of young people with a broader theme of the bullying power large institutions often can hold over ordinary people. Some critics thought the play exaggerated the issues but have since, sadly, been proven terribly wrong, especially in relation to abuse of children.Despite the serious themes, the play has a lot of humour in it and 3 songs.
In Jan/Feb 2009 … “The Choir” was given its premiere London season by Shameless Theatre at the fringe theatre, Above The Stag, near Victoria Station. It had a 4-week run in a 50-seat venue above a pub. It played a near sell-out season 6 times weekly to very good reviews – see following Review Sheets - and strong audience response.
Errol Bray was in London for the full season and was convinced – by the reactions of actors and audience - that the play was still very relevant and still packed a “dramatic punch” (review in The Stage). World-wide and ongoing revelations of abuse of children in church and state institutions and disasters amongst financial institution make the themes of “The Choir” utterly contemporary. Theplay’s drama still works very powerfully. Fliss Williams, critic for Totally Theatre, wrote that the “shocking conclusion drew audible gasps from the audience”. This has led to Errol’s decision to offer a new production by Switchboard Arts, which he will direct, for Brisbane in 2012. The BrisbanePowerhouse has agreed to host the production in their Visy Theatre.
In Jan/Feb 2010 … “The Choir” was given a 2-week season in Melbourne by Fly-on-the-Wall Theatre for the Midsumma Festival. The director, Robert Chuter, gave the play a poetic, “bare” production with excellent ensemble acting. The Age (reviewer Martin Ball) wrote, “… a brutal and savage exploration of power and group dynamics.”
Reviews of the London Fringe production of “The Choir” – Jan, 2009 (selections below have particular reference to the playscript)
The Stage, London - The Choir Published Tuesday 27 January 2009
“Written nearly 30 years ago, this startling play by Errol Bray still packs a punch and this production certainly maintains all the tension and fear hidden beneath the script.”
Review by Fliss Williams – Totally Theatre website
“Errol Bray’s ‘The Choir’ is a brave, thoughtful and incisive play, dealing with extreme issues, whilst exploring adolescent intimacy and desire. Set in the encapsulating hold of a boys’ dormitory, in a state orphanage, the play revolves around seven boys aged between 12 and 15, as they deal with growing up, without the usual advantages. An ensemble piece, the cast are a delight to watch as they bring the often harrowing and disturbing content to life, in a believable and thought provoking manner. . . . . . . . . . . . . .
“A complex and cleverly written script, the audience are asked to digest the juxtaposition between the empathy and kinship the choir boys feel for each other and the rising tension and violence. This makes the play at times incredibly difficult to watch. A shocking conclusion drew audible gasps from the audience, which left me disturbed long after the curtain fell. Not for the faint hearted, this is a homo-erotic piece, which will appeal to anyone who looks to theatre for philosophical growth. Bray has confidently crafted a piece of social commentary that successfully encourages us to think twice about stifling young minds and the institutional bigotry society is often blinded by. I am left with conflicting feelings about this piece, as much as I enjoyed the acting and staging of the play and the many humorous asides, I still feel as though there was little to prepare me as a viewer for the final barbaric conclusion.”
Review by Colette Gunn-Graffy for EXTRA! EXTRA!
“Sitting in the audience of the tiny fringe theatre space above The Stag pub in Victoria, I watched Errol Bray’s controversial play The Choir with a mixture of uncertainty and recognition. The Stag is a gay pub, and Shameless Theatre, a company that specialises in gay-themed productions, and yet, I found myself wondering whether The Choir was in fact a ‘gay play’. Although the play is blatantly homoerotic, centring on the love, longing and confused relationships of seven teenage boys in a State orphanage, the issues it picks apart are of universal concern.
“One of the most intriguing things about this play is the dark and mysterious world it creates. . . . . . . . . . The Choir is not unlike Lord of the Flies in its depiction of secret allegiances, power lusts and groupthink among young boys marooned on their own, away from society. It is all the more disturbing, however, for what it cites as the root of fascism: adults and their ‘good intentions’. Bray writes several brilliant monologues exposing the hypocrisy of individuals and institutions which seek to contain passion, ugliness, and even danger, in order to make themselves feel ‘more normal’. Although the play threatens to veer into bad melodrama towards the end, it is redeemed by an intense and gut-wrenching resolution. To pigeon-hole The Choir solely as a piece of ‘gay theatre’ would be a shame, as the people who could learn the most from it are those in the mainstream.”
Synopsis – “The Choir” by Errol Bray
The orphanage boys’ choir has won the interstate competition 3 years in a row. MISS LAWSON (never seen) is determined to win it again. She has the boy sopranos castrated so that their voices will remain pure and beautiful. The choir has an easy life with 7 to a dormitory. ANDREW is the Head Boy in the dormitory of this story. The others idolise him except for MICHAEL who will not speak and sits at his desk cutting out heads from photos in magazines. Underneath the story lies an uneasy and distorted sexuality with ANDREW as love-god.
During a teasing fight MICHAEL reveals that the castration is a mistake because they were done too late. Their voices are still changing. He thinks everyone must know this but the other Boys don’t. They are extremely disturbed by the revelation. They try to organise an escape. They try to tell the rest of the choir who won’t believe them at first and fighting breaks out amongst the different choir rooms. Some try to set the building on fire. In a fight, DAVID (the singer) is injured in the throat. He commits suicide with the help of his best friend, COLIN.
ANDREW tries to bring about calm. But he no longer holds sway over his group. They castrate him so that everyone in their room will be equal.