Thursday, 27 June 2019

REVIEW: Bare: A Pop Opera at The Vaults Theatre

Bare: A Pop Opera then Bare: A Rock Musical then Bare: The Musical has been rewritten and reimagined many times in its underexposed and underrated life. However - Bare: A Pop Opera is back in London after a run at The Union Theatre and then The Greenwich Theatre a few years back. This time, it’s chosen The Vaults as its home with Julie Atherton at the reins, directing. With book and lyrics by Jon Hartmere, and book and music by Damon Intrabartolo, Bare: A Pop Opera follows the students of St Cecilia’s as they explore sex, drugs, queer identity, and prepare to bare their souls.

Before talking about the show, I would like to comment on the event itself. Obviously, being a reviewer, I have attended many press nights but this one seemed pretty terribly organised. Upon arriving to the, not so easy to find, venue, the staff didn’t really seem to know what was going on which wasn’t the best start to a theatre experience. The doors opened at 7pm to the bar and the ticket collection was unclear. Cast members were walking back and forth through the bar chatting to friends and there were no toilets available until the house was open at around 7.15pm. The seating was unreserved but divided into coloured sections for different price points. This caused a lot of drama and confusion among patrons. The show went up twenty minutes late and finished at 10.20pm - much later than expected.

Saying that though, the venue was quirky and interesting but not great for being able to see the stage and action.

The choreography by Stuart Rogers was original and youthful. It was slick and almost perfectly executed by the ensemble. However, I don’t think it was designed with the venue and sight lines in mind. Especially in the opening, it masked the actors delivering text and vital plot points. 

I have to point out the casting as this is the aspect of the show that confused me most. The ensemble were almost perfectly put together with a variety of new graduates and seasoned West End performers. The majority were perfect examples of a ‘triple threat’ performer and they really held the show together and brought it to life. Most notable would be Tom Scanlon for his impeccable dance ability and sublime physical accents and Georgia Bradshaw, who’s vocals soared across the theatre. 

Also perfectly cast were Tom Hier in the role of Matt, Georgie Lovatt in the role of Nadia and Lizzie Emery as Ivy. Unfortunately, I would have to question the castings of both male leads, Peter and Jason. Both Daniel Mack Shand and Darragh Cowley as Peter and Jason respectively, gave below average vocal performances. Mack Shand gave some great nuanced acting in moments he wasn’t in the spotlight, however, the vocal range of the show seemed far too high for him and his accent was absent for the majority of the performance. Darragh gave a two dimensional and sometimes forced acting performance and lacked pitch accuracy and personality when singing. It sounded as though he was sight singing the score for the first time and plotting the notes. 

Lizzie Emery was incredible in the role of Ivy. She gave a very natural, sweet and misunderstood feel to Ivy, which was refreshing as i’ve only ever seen Ivy portrayed as a bit of a bitch. Emery’s vocals went on a journey throughout the show, too. Starting with a sweet, forward placed tone and gradually adding more of a pop edge throughout until finally letting rip on her Act 2 solo ‘All Grown Up’. Perfectly sung and beautifully acted, this was definitely the highlight of the show. 

Georgie Lovatt, in her professional debut, also stood out in the role of Nadia. Whilst her emotive range wasn’t the most genuine, her comedic one liners and vocals both impressed. 

Tom Hier also gave an honest performance and delivered clear, mature vocals paired with well established characterisation in the role of Matt. Again, giving a fresh take on a character who is not very well liked on paper. 

Dubbed as the ‘star’ of the show, Stacy Francis, whose voice is undeniably impressive, continually dropped lines and stumbled over words. I would suggest that chatting with friends and asking fellow cast members for clarification on ‘which beat her entrance is on’ in the foyer bar, filled with patrons, fifteen minutes before the scheduled start time probably isn’t the best use of her time. 

The direction from Julie Atherton was simplistic and natural for the majority, with some smart use of music, sound effects and lights for the more sombre moments of the show. Without giving any spoilers, the slow motion scene toward the end was really well executed and a clever way to get around the sudden plot twist. 

It would be negligent to not comment on the ending of the show that is not written in the script. Again, without giving any spoilers, the final scene is poignant, emotional, raw, important and above all else; unfortunately relevant.With small touches like the board in the bar and the final scene in native accents, Atherton has done a wonderful job of turning a ‘night out at the theatre’ into a thought provoking, moving and poignant experience that will hopefully urge to people to continue fighting to make our wonderful community safe and accepted. I, personally, am proud to have Julie Atherton as an incredible ally to the LGBTQ+ community. 

Overall, I have mixed feelings about this production of Bare. It is so well written that it is almost hard to do it badly. As a production, it works. However, if it were to get another life in the future, I would reconsider the casting of the two male leads, the marketing of the show and the venue.

Review by Lucas Wang

Rating: ★★★

Seat: Unreserved (Orange) | Price of Ticket: £34.50
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