Bare: A Pop Opera: The Vaults, London
Reviewed 26th June 2019
Bare: A Pop Opera, the coming-of-age rock musical is coming back to London for a short run at the iconic Vaults. The story follows a group of Catholic boarding school students as they grapple with issues of sexuality, sex, drugs, identify and the future. Whilst putting on a school production of Romeo and Juliet the students face barriers, obstacles and self-doubt as they journey to find themselves. Perfect for Pride Month, Bare is full of bright, diverse characters and is ‘a provocative, fresh, and utterly honest look at the dangers of baring your soul, and the consequences of continuing to hide who you truly are.’
Unfortunately, this production is fundamentally flawed by its unusual stage choice. The long, narrow stage with a section jutting out, basically splitting the audience in half, does not add anything to the production. Instead, it hinders sight lines and during, even some of the most emotional songs, the ensemble performers easily distract the audience without perhaps meaning to. It’s hard to see that any seat within the packed auditorium would actually have a good view with often the performers having their back to at least half of the audience for prolonged periods of time. This is a shame because despite its obvious sound faults on the night (unfortunately it was very difficult to hear the performers, again due to the staging but also the microphones which seemed to be incorrectly set) this version of Bare has clearly been thought through carefully. Without giving anything away, the poignant and heartfelt message at the end of the show proves that the issues it raises are still important and prevalent in society.
The cast themselves maintain their characters throughout. Made up of a young cast, several of whom this marks their professional debut, each performer has made their character unique and adds little character traits and details to their performance. The relationship between Jason, played by Darragh Cowley, and Peter, played by Daniel Mack Shand, is tangible and the two actors portray the struggle of their sexuality honestly. The production is fairly slow to start and it is only really by Act II that the audience really get to see the inner thoughts of the characters and start to feel true empathy towards them. Lizzie Emery’s emotion comes through in everything she does on stage as Ivy and by the second Act she has plenty of opportunities to show this talent off. Her rendition of ‘All Grown Up‘ is powerful and emotional. The real crowd pleaser of the night is Stacey Francis. The well-known American performer injects a bit of gospel and upbeat power into the production and certainly receives the best reaction from the audience.
Lighting by Andrew Ellis, is bright and the use of almost fluorescent colours works well in this venue. However, due to the staging, at times the lights were shining directly at some members of the audience for prolonged periods making it hard to see the action taking place on stage. The costumes were fitting with the show, although given the very high stage the girls could have benefitted from slightly longer skirts to protect their modesty. The modern, hip-hop style of choreography by Stuart Rogers is fresh and bings this story up to date.
At its heart Bare: A Pop Opera is an important story tackling a diverse range of issues still faced by young people today. Whilst it may not have any particularly memorable songs it plods along nicely and rounds to a dramatic ending. Even given the undeniable faults with this production it is worth a visit. The performers are clearly passionate about their roles and put everything into the performance. With just a few changes to the set and staging this production could be very successful. It is definitely worth catching whilst it has its short residency at The Vaults.
Bare: A Pop Opera plays at the Vaults in London until the 4th August 2019. For information and tickets click here.
Photo Credit: Tom Grace