The Actuallys are part of a rich thread of LGBTQI+ choirs in the city of Brighton and Hove, each having reached new heights over the last year or so and each bringing something very special and very different to the scene. It was only a couple of performances back that I felt that the Actuallys had hit their stride, there was a fullness to their sound, a richness that if memory serves me, I felt had the power of a Welsh male voice choir. And last night that powerful sound was on full display.

But there was something extra last night, the choir embraced their audience not only socially by coming amongst us before the start but also embracing us with sound by using the whole space and exploring and utilising the resonant acoustic of St Mary’s. The programme was almost entirely classic Christmas fare. Drifting slowly toward the platform they hit us to start with Torches, a fanfare of sound that grabbed our attention. Next my favourite carol, In The Bleak Mid-Winter, Christina Rossetti words and the setting by Harold Darke, my preferred version although the Holst can equally bring a tear to my eye. And two very fine solos from Jack Lynn and Andrew Whitelaw, lovely voices well placed. The evening was packed with gems like this, too many to list but there were hightlights. Gaudete, a familiar piece of music made most popular by Steeleye Span was beautifully delivered by Ian Hollands in call and response with him placed at the rear of the church and the choir to the front. They nailed it!

The second half opened with yet another tear inducing carol, Oh Holy Night, I had fortunately packed tissues as soloists Nick Paget and Andrew Whitelaw gave choir master Sam Cousins’ arrangement their all. It should be noted that Mr Cousins arranges much of their repertoire and does so with style, as do so many of the local choir’s leaders.

The second half had far more secular festive fare, crowd pleasing fun but done with class. A lesson could be learnt by all here. If you are going to perform a medley, or for younger readers, a “mash up”, then get it right, rehearse it so that it is seamless. The Actuallys had clearly spent time making sure that their’s was beat and note perfect, delightful transitions from song to song. And when I say note perfect this choir achieve something that few can. When belting out some massive or a well known tune they are pitch perfect, but now, even when singing something less familiar or sotto voce they are achieving the same precision. It is a delight to listen to.

Praise must also be given to the music team of Simon Gray, Maria Dunn and Jim Bernardin whose playing was so well balanced and effective.

The host for the evening was we heard unable to attend due to illness. It was no loss as two choir members stepped up to the plate and did a fine job, in fact far better than previous hosts and maybe there is a lesson to be learnt there, the choir has enough talent amongst its numbers to make a guest unnecessary.

A word too for Patrick Bullock whose set design was very stylish and beautifully lit. In fact the simple and unobtrusive lighting throughout worked so well and created real atmosphere.

There were many many highlights, fine arrangements, moments to join in, great solos, some funny moments and a lot of joy.

On the way out choir members engaged with us asking us if we had enjoyed the evening and wishing us seasonal good will. I of course replied with enthusiasm, perhaps a little too much when announcing that one solo voice was so delightful that I would fantasise about waking to hear it whispering in my ear! What am I like?

Andrew Kay

St Mary’s Kemp Town

15 December

Rating: ★★★★★

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