BWW Reviews: BARE, Greenwich Theatre, October 18 2013
If drama is about conflict - and it surely is - then Bare (at Greenwich Theatre until 27 October) is as intense a dramatic experience as is available anywhere on the London stage, for few productions can have quite as much conflict as this one. EastEnders would pause to pack this much argy-bargy into a couple of hours.
Peter loves Jason and Jason loves Peter (so far so good); but Ivy loves Jason too and, after a bit of encouragement, Jason loves (well, gives in to) Ivy. If that's a ménage-a-trois with a twist, then you can crank it up a notch or a dozen by the whole teenage trauma being played out in a Catholic boarding school with all the bitchy Mean Girls and stoners that seem to fill America's classrooms. Very early on, it's pretty clear that things won't end well ...and they don't.
Bare has been around a while but only recently crossed the Atlantic when this production was staged at the tiny Union Theatre. Some of the intimacy may have been lost on its transfer to the much larger Greenwich Theatre (it's worth getting seats as close to the stage as possible even if a little to the side - you'll see real tears standing in eyes) but that allows the epic sweep of adolescent anguish and the coldness of the Church to swirl around us. There's nothing really new here - the class is putting on Romeo and Juliet after all - but it reminds us how tough it is to be a teenager in love.
Both leads are excellent with Ross William Wild investing Jason with just the right mix of swagger and vulnerability (a bi version of The Fonz, if you will). As Peter, Michael Vinsen is heartbreaking in his attempt to come out to his mother and sings wonderfully well. Expect to see a lot more of him on the London stage. They get strong support from the rest of the cast, with Claudia Kariuki's sassy Sister Chantelle the pick, a real crowd pleaser as the nun with attitude and a great turn as Holy Mary Mother of God by Proud Mary, Tina Turner.
The music (played live) can be a little samey, but the setpieces are very good and there's plenty of dancing and even a little screwing. It might not be as showbiz slick as the West End, but it's got all the heart and soul you could wish to see. And that's the ultimate message of the show - the saving of souls should not require the breaking of hearts. Amazingly, that's an argument that still needs to be made.