Bare: A Pop Opera
Reviewed – 26th June 2019
“the unevenness of the ride took away from the power of the piece as a whole”
The Vaults had quite a buzz on last night: the house was packed to the rafters, and there were a few celebrities and attendant paparazzi knocking about. Having only been there for the festival, it was fun to see the whole of the end bar area given over to a production, and the space was completely transformed by the addition of a raised traverse stage. The ramped-up atmosphere definitely spoke of this production as ‘an event’, so it was something of a surprise to discover (in very small print in the programme) that this was, in fact, a revival of a piece premiered in California in 2000.
The premise is a simple one: two boys in the graduating class of an American Catholic high school are in love. Their love is secret from their family and friends, and they also struggle with feelings of guilt within their faith. The graduating class are performing Romeo & Juliet, and this cauldron of adolescent love, guilt and desire finally brims over, with tragic consequences.
The UK is currently suffering an upsurge in anti-LGBTQ attacks, particularly in the face of legislation over inclusive sex education, and there is therefore no doubt that this is, unfortunately, a timely staging. Despite this, Bare does seem somewhat dated. The Romeo and Juliet forbidden love trope is well-used, and Stacy Francis’ role as the sassy Sister Chantelle – though splendidly sung – is now most certainly a cliché.
Though a fair amount of lyrics were lost in the ensemble pieces, as well as in some of the smaller cameo moments, the energy and commitment of the cast was undeniable throughout, and there were some stand-out performances. Darragh Cowley sang beautifully, and perfectly captured the conflict between Jason’s inner and outer selves; Georgie Lovatt was sensational as Nadia (this is her professional debut and we will most definitely be seeing her again) and Jo Napthine was electric in her big solo number in the second half.
The second half was much stronger than the first – both musically and dramatically. The two duets, See Me and Cross, packed a much-needed emotional punch after the rather bland pre-interval soundscape, and Lizzie Emery, as Ivy, finally got to show us her musical theatre chops in her terrific solo All Grown Up. It was just a pity that all the musical and dramatic heft came in the second half, because the unevenness of the ride took away from the power of the piece as a whole.
There were a couple of arresting set-pieces, in which Stuart Rogers’ choreography was perfectly complemented by the lighting (Andrew Ellis) and sound design (Ross Portway), but there was also a fair amount of unnecessary movement which was distracting and didn’t seem fully realised. As it stands, Bare is a pretty solid evening of musical theatre (opera doesn’t seem right) with an undeniably important message, but there’s a leaner, more devastating piece fighting to get out.
Reviewed by Rebecca Crankshaw
Photography by Tom Grace
Bare: A Pop Opera
The Vaults until 4th August
Last ten shows reviewed at this venue: