"Bare-A Pop Opera" by Creatio Art Ltd. Duchess Theatre, Long Eaton.
This is one production that you should take a pack of tissues, just in case, and it even got this reviewer welling up.
I knew beforehand that this production was personal for several of the actors involved, and I wondered how that would affect, if at all,the actors. If anything it created a very passionate and powerful cast who gave a unified incredible performance.
The story is of Peter and Jason who are at a Catholic school and just happen to fall in love with each other. Peter is an altar boy and Jason is the school's golden boy. they room together and are also secret lovers. Throughout Peter wants to go public about their love but Jason is afraid to reveal his sexuality and even goes as far as sleeping with "party girl" Ivy. But Peter and Jason's affections have not gone unnoticed by Matthew, who also is in love with Ivy, but is rejected by her in favour of Jason. Soon the secret is out, but the consequences change several of the characters lives in a drastic way.
Apart from the main topic of being gay and teenage and Catholic, there are several other issues addressed which everyone will have encountered at some time in their lives, so we can all latch on to, and empathise with one or more of the characters. Whether it be weight issues, bullying, drugs, rejection or just wanting to belong, the whole teenage thing is highlighted here. It's a play that you can relate to on many levels, which is why there were several people in the audience openly dabbing their eyes.
Oliver Wheddon (Jason) gave a performance of a lifetime, and I've seen some incredible performances from Ollie. When he sang "Once Upon A Time" he was so impassioned that you couldn't help but feel so emotionally for his confused and treoubled character.
Hayden Fletcher (Peter) also gave one hell of a performance. I've seen Hayden in many roles over the last few years and this one sees Hayden in the most serious and adult role to date. his voice could cut glass, such is the clarity and emotion. just hear him perform "See Me" and I challenge you not to get choked up as he tries to "come out" to his mother by phone, who secretly knows anyway but tries to deny the fact that she has a gay son. just a very true and emotional performance from both Hayden and Laura Jones, who plays peter's mother.
Emily Gent (Ivy) delivers another amazingly passionate performance. Her impassioned performance of "All Grown Up" is another tear jerker. Emily peels back the layers from the "slut of St Cecilia's" to reveal the insecurities of a young girl who falls heavily and then has the bubble burst. Again, one of the most emotional roles I've seen the gorgeous Emily play. And those tears at the end were real!
Georgie Bond (Nadia) also hides the insecurities of Jason's twin sister who thinks she is overweight, by being bitchy. But when those cracks start to show, it's another emotive performance for Georgie. I loved the tender "A Quiet Night At Home" as well as the self depreciation of "Plain Jane Fat Ass".
Andrew Bould (Matthew) shows off his vocal talents as well as his ability to be just in the wrong place at the wrong rime to see and hear the things he doesn't want to see and hear. His character is rejected by Ivy and it's Matt who creates the fall out. You find yourself really feeling for Matt because I'm sure we've all fell for someone who didn't reciprocate those feelings, i know I have,and you can understand the anger that boils up inside Matt.
Jack Readyhoof (Lucas) is the boarding school drug supplier who is part of Jason's downfall. there's a wonderful rap sequence called "Wonderland"performed by Jack, as Lucas. One of the many highlights musically here and was rewarded with a rapturous round of applause. It's also one of the several lighter moments in the pop opera.
The other students are played by Lowri Spear (Dianne),Erin Keogh (Tanya),Rebekah Fearn (Kyra), Ryan Wiggins (Zach), Josh Birchall (Rory), Ben ヅ Jones (Alan),Sophie Robbins (Alysha), Sky Marsden (Christina) andRachael Webb (Lucy).
The gorgeous Monique Henry adds another religious sister to her CV as Sister Chantelle. Bringing more fun to the production with that sassy sister act. A wonderful soully, gospelly, chocolatey voice and a no nonsense but understanding, caring character who lets Peter know that she knows what is troubling him in the song "God Don't make No Trash" You can't help but fall in love with the Sister, as well as Monique.A wonderful, fun actor who could convert anyone.
Adam Guest plays The Priest. A completely different role from all of his recent pieces which just goes to show the variety in his acting ability. You also get to hear Adam sing in a serious mode. The Priest though also plays his part in the downward spiral of Jason.
I previously mentioned Laura Jones (Claire) as Peter's mother. You could really see the anguish and slight disappointment in the confirmation of Peter's sexuality but what a lovely turnaround performance at the end.
The ending is emotional and the tears from the actors on stage are not forced, neither are the ones in the audience. there's no curtain call or bows, just to hit home the seriousness of the message put over by this play.
The set was a piece of art with the massive stained glass window, constructed by Milly Shawcross and Terry Stevenson. What you may not notice is the giant cross projected on the stage from the window. Just stunning and incredibly effective thanks to the lighting of Dave Martin. Milly also did an amazing job as producer and stage managed the show; a woman of many talented hats.
Matt Powell directs this, what I first thought to be brave production, but after seeing it would now change that adjective to important. Why? I know that Matt, as well as many of the cast members are passionate about educating people about these issues played out. it's something that we should not see anymore but we do. I personally would rather see two gay people kissing openly than two straight people fighting in the street. This and the other issues covered in this play need to be seen by as many people as possible.
Matt, who also designed the set, does not shy away from directing or putting on productions that some directors would pass on, which is why directors like Matt are important in today's theatre. It paid off as well because the theatre was practically full, which I was so pleased to see, and I hope continues for the rest of the week.
Great sound from a live band, directed musically by Morris Fisher, assisted by Martin Lewis. At first i thought that the music was recorded, just because of the quality, but no, it was all produced live.
Completing the production team is Stephanie Ure as choreographer and you almost don't notice the choreography because it is subtle at times and unobtrusive, which is a great complement to, not only the subtlety of Stephanie's choreography but to the actors also.
The pop opera has a brilliant soundtrack and this company have amassed some of the best talent in local theatre which makes for one amazing show. I had never seen "Bare" before and while I could say that this is the best performance I've seen of this show, that would not do the show credit due to my flippancy. What I can say is that this is an important production with a social commentary which needs to be taken on board. I hope that everyone who sees this show goes away and contemplates its' themes and tells everyone else to come and see this amazing and emotive piece of theatre.
"Bare-A Pop Opera" is at the Duchess Theatre until Saturday 17 September 2016.