After seeing several of director Paul Taylor Mills’ previous productions, I thought I knew what to expect from bare: the rock musical, but I was genuinely swept away by this fresh and dynamic tale of teenage love and angst.
An exquisitely sexy musical with an extremely talented and equally alluring cast, I laughed and cried with the characters as every emotion is played out in front of us. Heartstrings were tugged in every direction, whilst my every sense tingled with the visual and aural treats of this vibrant production.
Written by Jon Hartmere and Damon Intrabartolo, bare tells the story of a group of teenagers at a Catholic boarding school discovering love and, by default, themselves. Told with such absolute warmth, the audience is provided an extremely intimate view into the lives of these youngsters. There are some beautifully tender moments in amongst the lively, fast-paced action and I can’t remember the last time I felt so emotionally invested in a show and its characters. Scenes of real heartbreak are gently softened with an expert use of humour, providing not just relief but also some genuine laugh-out-loud moments.
Jason (Ross William Wild) and Peter (Michael Vinsen) are in a clandestine relationship, as rocky as it is secret. As they are pulled apart, Ivy (Lilly-Jane Young) is quick to take advantage of Jason’s newly single status which breaks Matt’s (Dale Evans) heart and angers Nadia (Melanie Greaney), all set against the backdrop of rehearsals for the school production of Romeo and Juliet. Confused? This is the tangled web that is brilliantly interplayed in this highly emotional rollercoaster as we watch relationships and, indeed, lives torn apart. Throw in a steadfastly conservative mother (Yvette Robinson) who refuses to allow her son to come out (even to her), a possibly-closeted priest (Matt Harrop) and a strict Sister with a sideline in sass (Hannah Levane), and you get the picture.
Will Burton’s casting is beyond superb on this production. The leads are exceptional and supported by a hugely talented ensemble. I was particularly struck by the sensitivity between Wild’s Jason and Vinsen’s Peter – so touching it is very easy to see the love between the two characters.
Ross William Wild is captivating and his brilliant eyes tell every emotion Jason feels, a detail rarely seen so honestly portrayed. Michael Vinsen is equally expressive and particularly skilful at using his voice to convey emotion.
Other notable performances came from Lilly-Jane Young and Dale Evans. Ivy’s vulnerability and longing is visible throughout but never more so than during her solo number, All Grown Up. Her handling of some particularly tough scenes displays a sensitivity and grace far beyond her years. Her suitor is portrayed beautifully and intelligently by Evans with Matt’s desperation for Ivy’s attention clearly visible.
Jason’s sister, the larger than life Nadia is played expertly and utterly believable by Melanie Greaney, who is an absolute pleasure to watch and listen to. It’s difficult to comprehend that this is Greaney’s professional debut with the strength and skill she so visibly exhibits here. Indeed, for many of the cast, bare marks their professional debut – and what a debut it is!
The outstanding performance of the night though has to go to Hannah Levane’s fabulously feisty Sister Chantelle. With a strong, powerful voice that is bang on the note, it was a rare and exquisite privilege to hear her so close.
The intensely beautiful score is complemented perfectly by Racky Plews’ tight choreography, which is perfectly executed throughout.
Paul Taylor Mills’ vision is, as always, thoroughly engaging and enlightening. It’s rare to come out of a show feeling so wholly fulfilled. Without a doubt, bare is one of the very best things on the London stage at the moment and, if you don’t see this production, you’re missing out on something very special indeed.
bare: the rock musical plays at the Union Theatre, Southwark until 25 May. Tickets are currently sold out, but it is very definitely worth checking the website regularly and asking the venue for returns.