Choir Boy is an adept and moving take on cultural tensions

Royal Court Theatre | ****

WHEN YOU hear the name Choir Boy for a theatrical production what springs to mind? If you’re anything like me, its the idea of an excuse for a good old sing along, followed by a tale of the protagonist’s use of music to conquer all.

Okay, so that is what happens in Tarell Alvin McCarney’s latest play but thankfully, the award-winning playwright also brought a lot more to the table.

Aside from the brilliant singing from the young cast, McCarney delves into the tensions between religion and sexuality, racism and homophobia, all of which takes place in the apt setting of Charles R Drew Prep School; an all-black school for boys with a 50-year choir tradition.

Former Britain’s Got talent hopeful Dominic Smith plays Pharus, a talented, effeminate boy with ambitions to lead the school choir on graduation day. Tensions grow between Pharus and Bobby, the macho character of the play who torments Pharus about his sexuality.

To help mediate the tensions, headmaster Marrow brings in white civil right activist Mr Pendleton to talk to the choir, sparking a debate about the similarity between Bobby’s experience of racism and the homophobic slurs he directs at Pharus. But the tension doesn’t end there.

It quickly becomes apparent that David, who plans to become a minister, has feelings for Pharus. With the Bible condemning homosexuality, what is David to do when he calls on God for guidance to suppress his sexual desires but gets no reply? It’s a complex issue, and one that McCarney tackles confidently.

Both thought provoking and comedic, Choir Boy is a classic coming of age tale, and one that definitely pulls on the heartstrings.