The Vaults, London – until 4 August 2019
What is it? A contemporary musical that keeps to an operatic formula, and follows the relationship of two young lovers that attend a catholic boarding school in the American midwest.
What’s it all about? First hitting the stage in 2000, Bare: A Pop Opera was a revelation for its time. The show garnered a huge audience and made massive strides for the LGBTQ+ community, bringing to light the horrific bullying in schools across the US and further toward young queer people.
Its catchy tunes and diverse cast gave it a cult popularity that has remained to this day. Nineteen years later, director Julie Atherton and SR Productions bring a similar show to the stage, with a few differences that at times, bring the show rightly into the new century, and others that are glaringly dated.
The show launches the audience into the reverent world of the catholic church, as a procession of students follows a priest into a smoky service. Spiralling into a nightmare, student Peter (Daniel Mack Shand) is a thrust into the spotlight as his fellow peers ridicule him and chastise him for his relationship with roommate Jason (Darragh Cowley).
The show includes a large ensemble of characters that all have their own individual identity struggles and as the piece continues, the dark nature of growing up in a society that is judgement and cruel is revealed, with grave consequences. How did it make me feel? I felt this show in waves.
There were some moments of real connection, where I felt myself really empathising and understanding these characters and what they were going through. For example, when Ivy (Lizzie Emery) sings ‘All Grown Up’, a song about her unplanned pregnancy, and her loss at knowing what to do, the room pulsates with emotion. So too when Lucas (Bradley Connor), the school’s resident drug dealer, raps to his peers about his large range of merchandise for sale, the energy that beats out of the ensemble is incredible.
However there were also some odd directorial choices that left the me feeling confused. In particular, the addition of adding a self harm storyline to Nadia’s character (played by the fantastic Georgia Lovatt) feels forced and out of character, especially because this self harm element is never brought up again. Our two lovers, Jason and Peter are also interesting choices, as the pair seemed to lack any real chemistry at all, and unfortunately miss the mark vocally and emotionally throughout.
The stand out number is “911! Emergency” in which the Virgin Mary (Stacy Francis) appears in a dream to Peter, with two angels in tow (Georgia Bradshaw and Athena Collins). Vocally fantastic, energy for days and perfect comedic timing. I couldn’t help thinking throughout that these actors deserved meatier, more interesting roles.
Choreographer Stuart Rogers, has done wonders here, with the movement often expressing more than the script does. Additionally, there was some brilliant lighting design, with scenes such as the club scene “Rolling” having an electric, drug fuelled sense about them. More often than not though, I felt worried for actors who seemed to be stuck in strange places on the stage. It was clear that these were clear directorial choices, and this seemed to have no real consistency.
Times where stillness and focus was clearly needed, other ensemble members were whispering and moving around in the back of the scene, which was obviously done in order to remind us that this is a school and there are always people around, but just end up being distracting and taking away from the actor we are supposed to be focused on. The ending of the show, was incredibly moving however, with the cast paying tribute to young people from all over the world who had taken their own lives because of bullying over their sexuality. The importance of this piece rings out, and the lives of these young people are remembered, not forgotten.
Where Is It Playing? The Vaults has created a makeshift space in their usual bar area which throws the audience right into the thick of things. This did make staging difficult again, as it gives the show an almost claustrophobic feel, and sadly causes the audience to miss a lot of things and see far too much of others. Anything Else?
Bare stills holds a special place in a lot of people’s hearts and while this production does its best to serve the original, it may have been better trying to give it a fresher, more progressive feel, casting a more diverse cast (and not just because they had been specifically written that way) and experimenting with gender swapping to really welcome all people facing the issues that the story does so well to highlight. Amy x Bare: A Pop Opera runs at The Vaults until the 4th August 2019 If you like my reviews and want to support this blog feel free to buy me a virtual coffee here!