Review: Bare – A Pop Opera, The Vaults

In the 50th anniversary year of Greenwich Theatre Limited, the company currently running the historic venue in the Royal Borough, I have inevitably been looking back at other key events from 1969 – from the first man to walk on the moon to the Stonewall Uprising which launched the modern Pride movement.

Anniversaries can always be problematic. Looking back at the moon landing throws a spotlight onto the apparently dwindling space programme that this country, and countries around the world, now engage in. From a moment when the whole world looked up at space and celebrated the possibilities in the wider universe, we seem to have all but lost interest. In the case of Stonewall, it would be nice to think that looking back at a time of unenlightened persecution, from a position of liberal acceptance, would make it an easy thing to celebrate, but it is sadly not that simple.

At The Vaults under Waterloo, to coincide with Pride, SR Productions are currently presenting a revival of BARE, the American musical by Damon Intrabartolo and Jon Hartmere directed by Julie Atherton. The show follows a group of students at an American catholic school as they prepare to stage Romeo and Juliet – the classic tale of forbidden love which is reflected in the events that befall two of the boys at the school.

To give it its full title, BARE A Pop Opera is exactly what you’d expect – an almost entirely sung-through show with a strong pop score – but the acoustics at the venue and a difficult seating arrangement mean that much of what should be high-energy musical drama is, in the first act, hard to hear, with overcomplicated set-changes (particularly given the simple set-up) and sometimes the events are hard to engage with. However, the show comes into its own in act two. A show like this has to forego a degree of realism and play to its strengths as a pop concert. There are strong songs and the youthful performers are up to the task, so when act two sees them turn out towards the audience far more and just sing, the experience is transformed.

Much has been made of the appearance of Stacy Francis, finalist on the first X-Factor USA, and it is true that she has the knock-out voice required for the role of Sister Chantelle, but among a good ensemble cast there are also strong performances from Daniel Mack Shand, Tom Hier and Lizzie Emery, and the performance of the night comes from Georgia Lovatt as Nadia, the sister to one of the two boys in question who suffers her own challenges in fitting into the cliques at the school.

The show finishes with an original sequence, added on to the action to anchor the tragic final events in reality. This is where the notion of the anniversary becomes painful. Watching the show it is easy to settle into an enlightened celebration of gay culture and to see the events on the stage as the stuff of history, but Atherton’s additions bring home the continuing challenge faced by young people in the US, and by extension around the world, as they seek to navigate the challenges of growing up.

James Haddrell is the Artistic & Executive Director of Greenwich Theatre

Bare – A Pop Opera
The Vaults, until 4 August 2019

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