Premiered in 2000, Bare is now a historical piece. There is, generally, much less hostility to gay love than there was, even twenty-two years ago. In that time, we’ve seen the acceptance first of civil partnerships and then same-sex marriage in most Western countries. One feels that the relationship between Peter (Ross McHugh) and Jason (Arthur Janes) might be a little more straightforward in 2022 although the Catholic Church might not agree.
As far as I can tell this show has never had a big production in the UK although it has been staged in Liverpool and there was an outing in Brighton in 2017. So all power to Bird College for running with it – good choice, actually, because the ensemble can be as large as you like and there are thirty-six students in this group.
It was originally styled “a pop opera” and that remains a pretty fair description. It’s a sung though tragedy with chorus. Intrabartolo’s music is wide ranging and sensitive. There are hymns and anthems – because we’re in a Catholic boarding school – and, at one point a Bach-like cello continuo. All this is played well by an out-of-sight eight piece band led by MD Connor Henryk Fogel on keys.
The production (directed and choreographed by Richard J Hinds, assisted by Sam Hooper) is distinguished by the quality of its dance. There are some vibrant ensemble scenes and imaginative use of dance figures behind singers to enhance mood and atmosphere. And Marissa Sims, who plays Sister Chantelle and is reincarnated as the Virgin Mary in a dream, really is a dancer to watch.
The students are being directed by Sister Chantelle in a production of Romeo and Juliet and all the tense love themes – including an unexpected end twist – are woven into both the action and the music. Some of the songs are effectively settings of Shakespeare’s words.
At the centre of all this Janes as the anguished Jason really stands out. He is deeply attracted to/in love with Peter but tries desperately to resist it and certainly thinks any form of coming out would be madness. But he also appeals to girls and Janes gets the charisma exactly right – which eventually leads to serious trouble with Ivy (Georgia Kleopa – good). Janes sings with lots of very convincing sensitivity and makes us share his near-insoluble dilemma. Meanwhile his sister Nadia (Amy Smethurst) is in the same school. Smethurst creates a vulnerable but sassy girl, very different from her brother and yearning for some sort of relationship. When everything gets complicated she sings “Maybe being single’s not so bad” and we laugh wryly because that’s spot on.
McHugh’s performance as Peter is warm and coherent. He has no doubts. He’s known what he is since he was twelve and is very distressed by Jason’s uncertainties. His singing is pretty accurate. One of his best scenes is a phone call to his mother (Lily Gain) in which he tries to tell her the truth but she refuses to listen – but gets the message anyway and is devastated.
Well done, Bird College. You seem to be exploring, relatively unknown, musical theatre territory and doing so stylishly.
First published by Sardines: https://www.sardinesmagazine.co.uk/review/bare/