Bare: A Pop Opera at The Vaults

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Whilst I’ve had comfier rides on a mid-July, peak time underground train – seating aside – I was very impressed and moved by Bare: A Pop Opera. The stellar cast sells this show almost conditionally – I’m not sure I would’ve appreciated the show as much had the cast not been so absolutely wickedly talented. Every person on stage was a true triple threat, the dances neat and punchy, the songs as beautiful and harmonic as a choir, and the acting, which normally falls through the cracks, was for once the highlight of the show.

 I cannot stress enough how terrible the seating was. I think I’ve always neglected to mention seating in a review so this is a first – black plastic fold out chairs spaced so closely together you couldn’t put your arms by your sides, and which forced you to sit at an angle that resulted in a bout of interval yoga from all.

Photos – Tom Grace

The acting from all lead players was just exceptional. I believed every moment from every character on stage. In the more emotive moments I found I physically couldn’t look away. The plot is slightly slow at times, but you care about the characters so freely, it doesn’t matter a great deal. I can only attest this to remarkable acting, and true cast connections.

The comedy was a well needed respite from serious and emotional matters, and it was always delivered excellently with precise comedic timing. In particular Georgie Lovatt as Nadia was dealt quick, comedy, throwaway lines that might have been lost if not for her timely and clear execution. Both of her songs were dripping with comedy too, and were among my favourites of the show.

Peter and Jason’s (Daniel Mack Shand and Darragh Cowley’s) relationship is powerful and moving – in fact, during a particular Romeo & Juliet scene, the moment was so pure I was moved to tears. They both have stunning voices to boot, and incredibly challenging parts vocally, to which they both rose to the occasion.

LizzieEmery is utterly believable as the intoxicating Ivy. She makes Ivy easy to empathise with, despite her character not being so. Her vocal range is astounding, her tone beautiful, and her vocals never wavered.

Liv Alexander stood out from an exceptional ensemble. She was distinctly watchable at all times, effortlessly funny without lines, and her slow motion blink easily deserves its own mention – hilarious.

I’ve occasionally been one to feel slightly ill at ease watching overt sexual action on stage, but the energy of both pairings, and complete confidence in the cast easily overpowers the discomfort. In fact, they became some of the most raw, emotive moments in the show. The connections in each couple were palpable, and both scenes were expertly staged.

Bare focuses well on the main issue of homosexuality in respect to the Catholic church – especially instilling the idea that the help and support one recieves is a clear indicative of how differently a life will turn out. It’s an affirming message, and clearly shows what LGBTQ+ allies can do to make a difference in any young person’s life. The ending in particular is beautiful – a poignant tribute to the lost lives of young LGBTQ+ people. It was incredibly moving, clearly for the cast as well as the audience, and an undoubtedly perfect way to end the show.

It skims lightly over other issues, highlighting them well enough, with dark comedy to add to the delivery, but doesn’t delve into them to the extent I thought they would be touched upon. I was also puzzled as to why Claire, Peter’s mum, got a sympathetic song about dealing (or not dealing) with her homophobia, no matter how well the song was delivered.

The sound was the let-down of the whole production. With such a flawless cast of singers, I was shocked to find throughout the bigger numbers, I couldn’t hear a thing despite being sat 6 feet away. The band overpowered the singers when playing in their full number, and the lyrics were lost. We could still hear the notes, but there were almost entire songs lost to the audience, because we just couldn’t hear what they were saying. Luckily, the bigger numbers drive the plot less so we didn’t lose our way. It’s also fortunate that this was only the case for a handful of  songs, and all the key, meaningful, quieter ones were heard clear as day.

In my opinion, a few quieter moments could’ve used slightly more staging to bring the sublime score to life, but that’s a very subjective issue and didn’t massively affect the performance at all.

Bare, for it’s limited run, is definitely one to watch for everyone, but especially for those with a vested interest in LGBTQ+ subject matter. The whole production was littered with so many tiny moments that audibly resonated with the audience. Watching small things that obviously felt singular to that individual be realised as a collective experience was wonderful and affirming for many I’m sure. Also watching the audience come alive as Sister Chantelle says ‘There’s a black woman in the soul of every gay man’ is something everyone should experience.

Review by Mims Melville

Bare: A Pop Opera is running at the Vaults until 4th August. To find out more and buy tickets visit their website.

If you like this review of Bare you might also like my review of Six, Everybody’s Talking About Jamie and Vincent River.

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