Bare: A Pop Opera, The Vaults Theatre
Jon Hartmere and Damon Intrabartolo’s opera is presented in London by SR Productions 19 years after is American debut. It is a Spring Awakening for 21st Century focusing on the sexual activities of teenagers in a boarding school. In what would probably make an interesting drama the opera element is let down by this production; from the T-shaped set, which means half the audience, sat on painful plastic chairs, miss half the action if they want to avoid neck injuries to the lengthy set changes and ultimately a sense that this is taking itself far more seriously than the audience are. The late start of press night suggests a show that is not quite ready.
Peter (Daniel Mack Shand) is in love with Jason (Darragh Cowley), his Catholic Boarding School roommate. Both wrestle with their sexuality. Jason is the straight acting, sporty and popular kid. The boys want to be him, the girls want to be with him which leads to drama and tragedy when he embarks on a fling with Ivy (Lizzie Emery) with devastating and rather predictable consequences.
I try not to factor in things like venue when writing review by this venue is terrible. A large space with a narrow stage means there are constant distractions regarding set changes (do really need two full size single beds to show we are in a dorm room) and the audience are expected to sit on hard plastic chairs and turn their heads for most of the actions. Julie Atherton, who I respect as a musical theatre performer) has directed this large ensemble to chitter chatter away in the background which is distracting and unnecessary. If they must perform do it quietly. This wouldn’t be tolerated as an extra, it shouldn’t be acceptable in a stage ensemble. There are some real cringe moments too; Bradley Connor’s Lucas spending the whole time in a baseball cap because his one song ‘Wonderland’ has a rap. Hamilton this is not.
That is the real problem, it feels amateur. With many performers on stage in their first professional role you do get some stand outs Georgie Lovett as Nadia, Jason’s overweight sister, who despite her material mostly being about how fat and sad she is her rendition of Plain Jane Fat Ass is a lot of fun and the more experienced performers, especially Stacy Francis as Sister Chantelle gives this production real gravitas with ‘God Don’t Make No Trash’ becoming a really moving song about having faith in your faith. Stuart Rogers choreography, not easy on this set, is exceptional but Andrew Ellis lighting design, which uses the spotlight to blind audiences’ members, is hit and miss. Understandable on this difficult set.
There are some real missteps with the casting and design. Some are struggling with the vocal demands of the role, the sound design often drowned out songs; others look like they are far too old to be in uniform. If this was a student production it would be cute, but this is a professional show, charging up to £39.50 of the privilege to sit through this on uncomfortable chairs. As a source material it is still relevant and has a lot of heart, but I felt really disconnected from this production. In more experienced hands it could be a classic, but this feels like a cast and crew struggling to find their own faith in themselves and this production.
Bare : A Pop Opera is on until 4 August. Tickets from £24.50 https://www.thevaults.london/bare