Bare: A Pop Opera review – passion and fear in gay school romance

Given the deeply troubling recent headlines about homophobic attacks, this revival of Bare: A Pop Opera might have really stung. It’s a coming-of-age musical set in a Catholic boarding school and focuses on the fear, doubt and passion in a gay relationship between two teenage boys. Jon Hartmere’s lyrics are dark and punchy and Damon Intrabartolo’s score rumbles with the turbulent energy of teenage life. Here’s a musical that should brim with personality and pertinence, but Julie Atherton’s haphazard production is simply underwhelming.

The band sit on a balcony to the side of the stage and never really feel part of the action (the key changes come as a surprise to everyone). The actors perform on a raised stage with a thrust platform that splits the audience in two and makes it a nightmare to connect with the crowd below. A dodgy sound system blurs the lyrics and the superfluous activity at the edges of the stage – lots of mumbling and bluster from the ensemble – constantly distracts. Libby Watson’s design features a line of endlessly rotating lockers, and Stuart Rogers’ choreography involves an awful lot of spinning and thumping of chairs.

There are tantalising flashes of what might have been, particularly with some strong solo numbers in the second half. Lizzie Emery nails her mournful ballad, All Grown Up, and Georgie Lovatt is a touching mix of fragility and defiance as the lonely and overweight Nadia. Stacy Francis shines as the wisecracking Sister Chantelle and her big number, God Don’t Make No Trash, is generous and wise; a rare burst of feeling and purpose. It’s a blessed relief in an otherwise oddly muted show.

Lizzie Emery … nails her mournful ballad. Photograph: Tom Grace

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