A poignant musical that gradually builds to a powerful climax, Bare: A Pop Opera is a show that explores the difficulties of being gay in a religious society. This show feels similar to Spring Awakening and Heathers, with its ability to set up a what initially appears to be light-hearted high school drama, but then shock its audience by completely changing the narrative we all think we know. It suggests that we need to approach ‘teen’ problems more seriously, as our current methods are leaving our young people struggling and ultimately putting them in severe danger.
Peter (Daniel Mack Shand) and Jason (Darragh Cowley) are two gay teens in a Catholic boarding school, and while the usual adolescent issues of drug use and sex are present, the underlying problem is religion vs homosexuality. That being said, this show has the means to be extremely controversial, however something is lacking, and I’d like for it to delve deeper into this intriguing topic. It briefly explores the relationship between the priest and the two boys, and how it is detrimental to their lives, but only brushes on the surface of what could really be addressed. The ending feels way too rushed for the level of importance and poignancy it holds. When we do reach the ending however, a stunning job is done in bringing this ‘story’ from fictitious theatre to real life.
But it takes the entirety of the first act for us to feel engaged with the story and invested in the characters. This isn’t helped by the fact that sound levels aren’t quite right and it is therefore difficult to understand what is being sung for the whole first half. This is quickly made up for however by the skilled cast, their strong vocals and sharp choreography by Stuart Rogers.
Shand portrays a yearning, nerdy boy who is quiet and sincere throughout. He acts brilliantly but sometimes feels under-energised when singing. Cowely as his charismatic partner/head boy acts authentically and intensely throughout. They create a truly beautiful couple on stage, and it is painful to watch as they struggle through navigating their sexuality in such an oppressive environment. The stand-out performer for me is Georgie Lovatt playing the forgotten sister of the superstar, Jason. She portrays the cynical, witty sibling excellently and her vocals are effortlessly captivating. Her character looks at the complexity of being the ‘Plain Jane Fat Ass’, and the humour and tragedy of this is played perfectly.
The traditional leading lady, Ivy is played by Lizzie Emery, but in a show like this there is nothing traditional about her. She explodes with emotion by the second half and her performance of ‘All Grown Up’ is truly commendable. The comedic relief then comes from Sister Chantelle (Stacy Francis), the all-knowing teacher who sees right through Peter’s lies. She is somewhere between a Beyoncé-like powerhouse to a comical Virgin Mary. While her vocals are spectacular, her diction lacks and she doesn’t reach her full comedic potential because of this. The whole cast however is generally faultless, as each member on stage works at 110%, which is captivating to watch.
The components of this musical are individually brilliant – choreography, acting, script, and music by Jon Hartmere and Damon Intrabartolo, but the slow start (and unfortunate sound issues on the night I attended) prevent it from being the outstanding show it could be. I hope these issues are resolved, as a truly poignant story is being told – one that needs to be heard.
Bare: A Pop Opera is playing at The Vaults until 4 August. For more information and tickets, visit The Vaults website.