Bare: A Pop Opera by Jon Hartmere and Damon Intrabartolo
The Vaults, until 4th August- Short walk from Waterloo Stations.
2 hr 45 with an interval.
Veronica Stein, 26th June, 2019.
Jason is that rare breed of teenage boy that exists mainly in film and stage: a golden god who probably plays seven sports and saves the annual play (Romeo and Juliet this time around) by miraculously being a perfect leading man. He is also gay and deeply in the closet, despite his roommate/lover’s (Peter) pleading that they be together in the open. Jason’s sister Nadia is the resident cynic, though she is also deeply self-loathing, while Ivy, Jason’s equivalent on the social ladder, grapples with her need for male attention and other’s judgment of her promiscuity. Ivy’s boyfriend Matt is all too aware of her intentions with- you guessed it- Jason, and under the eyes of God and some very creepy religious paintings everything just may be laid Bare.
When Bare premiered at the beginning of the noughties, it’s place in the musical theatre canon was being newly carved out: risque, rebellious, coming of age- it’s highly possible the Spring Awakenings of the world wouldn’t exist without it. Those newer musicals, however, have had the luxury of being able to diverge from where Bare wasn’t too successful.
Musically, the main issue appears to be a lack of intimate songs that actually further the plot- they provide character background, but in requiring these songs in order to provide dimension to the characters their archetypal nature is highlighted. Alongside this, Peter and Jason seem to sing several repetitive duets that don’t lead to any resolution or decision making- it is completely possible that this is a success of the material in terms of representing a gay couple, but at the end of the day it’s a disservice to the story. It should be noted, however, the several songs that do progress the plot (All Grown Up, One) showcase the true potential for what could have been- a soaring, angsty rock score. The overarching storyline has some insurmountable challenges- for one thing, the relationship these students have to the church is complicated but not explored- and at least in this iteration it does not feel like a true threat to Jason and Peter’s livelihood. For example Sister Chantelle’s (Stacey Francis, a true diva) God Don’t Make No Trash seems to blow the wind out of the sails of the couple’s detractors, like their priest. It evokes a sense of unnecessary tragedy when all events unfold- and though misplaced fear may be what the writers were after, it is a waste of dramatic potential to not use the stakes the way they are set up earlier in the piece. Perhaps most egregious is Ivy’s predicament in the second act, which is presented beautifully in the score and is cast aside in favor of other plot developments. A true victim in the story, she deserves better. The Vaults too has many issues that cannot be ignored, despite it’s grittiness and singularity. Though microphones are used, it’s very difficult to make out dialogue and lyrics when the actors turn away- and with such a shallow and long stage this is often necessary.
All that being said, Julie Atherton has done a cracking job with the challenges of the piece and the theatre to craft a true ensemble piece and to use the space for all its worth. The performances, too, are largely excellent. Lizzie Emery and Tom Hier are standouts, finding the mystery and vulnerability in Ivy and the earnestness of Matt respectively. The ensemble on the whole are charismatic- especially Liv Alexander, Bradley Connor, and Athena Collins. Stuart Roger’s choreography is the highlight, contemporising the music and concentrating the turmoil of adolescence. All in all, the reasons to come see it lie in the energy the performers who bring auspicious tidings for the future of musical theatre, as channeled by the creative team.
Bare: A Pop Opera, is perhaps the epitome of a cult classic- though never receiving a Broadway production it maintains a sacred space in the hearts of many musical fans. There are plenty of reasons for this: the rock score was rare when it opened in 2000, it was one of the first musicals to delve deep into the minds of rebellious adolescents, and perhaps most importantly, it bravely represented a gay relationship in what may be the most taboo setting of all, a boarding Catholic school. This Julie Atherton Production at the Vaults, while stunning in several respects, unfortunately calls into question whether the cult status of the source material is deserved. According to various sources, prior to early rewrites Bare was less of an after-school special PSA. Now it is still special, but severely lacking.
Sister Chantelle: Stacy Francis
Claire: Jo Napthine
Priest: Mark Jardine
Jason: Darragh Cowley
Peter: Daniel Mack Shand
Ivy: Lizzie Emery
Nadia: Georgie Lovatt
Matt: Tom Hier
Lucas: Bradley Connor
Tanya: Athena Collins
Kyra: Georgia Bradshaw
Diane: Liv Alexander
Rory: Beccy Lane
Zack: Tom Scanlon
Alan: Alexander Moneypenny
Swing: Hollie Ann Lowe
Director: Julie Atherton
Producer: SR Productions
Musical Director: Alasdair Brown
Choreographer: Stuart Rogers
Designer: Libby Watson
Lighting Designer: Andrew Ellis
Sound Designer: Ross Portway
Photo Credit: Tom Grace