In the week that’s passed since I interviewed the cast for the preview of Bare, the stage and the stakes have changed. The stage is now adorned with blocks, a moving staircase, the pulsing energy of the orchestra from behind the wings. The characters are dressed in their costumes, the school uniform customised to single out the most prominent characters in the ensemble. The seats, instead of being littered with the equipment of the cast and crew, are now filled with people: this last performance of Bare was sold out. I feel excited as I wait for it to begin, cosied in the corner. From what I saw the week before, this performance was a labour of love. I am excited to see the passion come to life. 

For those who don’t know, Bare is a pop-opera coming of age musical originally written by Damon Intrabartolo and Jon Hartmere, and directed in this production by Mina Moniri. Entirely sung, it tracks the students of a Catholic boarding school in their final year. The main conflict comes in the relationship of Peter (Gianni Tam-McMillan) and Jason (Peter Todd). Having been together for years, it has reached the point where Peter wants to come out as being in a gay relationship. He wants to stop ‘the act’ that he has been playing all his life; of being straight, of fitting into heteronormativity. Jason, on the other hand, is popular and used to attention. His portrayal of a character is complete, and he does not feel ready to expose himself to the world, especially given his distant parents and his Catholic upbringing. 

As their swan song, the year group is expected to put on a performance of Romeo and Juliet. Here, the allusions between the two conflicts are obvious. People on different sides of the fence, united in their similar stories… how friendships and romance can often turn dark and have brutal consequences. Joining the two main characters are Ivy (Zoe Shum), the girl famous in school for being promiscuous; Matt (Declan), the pious student (shown mainly by how he is always wearing a suit); and Eleanor (Nadia McConnell), Jason’s sister. 

What stood out for me about this project was the sheer amount of devotion and excitement that was weaved into every sung word, every spotless piece of choreography. In terms of the staging and the movement in the scenes – as well as from scene to scene with the transitions – it was near flawless. They made use of the space of the Keble O’Reilly, having characters pop up on the balconies, illuminated to say their parts, or – such as during a scene set at a rave – on the stairs between the audience members, dancing and bringing the chaos of the messy characters to those watching it. 

Admittedly, it wasn’t the smoothest start in terms of the technicalities. A pause about 20 minutes in for a ‘minor issue’ sprung up. With equipment such as microphones, live music and these lighting fixtures aimed to pinpoint particular characters at certain moments, it’s no wonder that the ambition might cause a few ‘technical issues’. But it was worth the wait. When the performance resumed, the clapping and cheering in the room was enthusiastic, and the actors carried on professionally. The crack in the performance was perfectly filled.

The skill of the performers were the perfect vessels for a storyline that quickly became grave and heart-wrenching. The stand-out of these performers was Peter’s actor, Gianni, who you would hardly believe was a newcomer to the Oxford stage. His and Peter Todd’s voices worked perfectly together, harmonising to show the relationship between their characters. Other highlights of the singing were ‘A Quiet Night at Home’ by McConnell and ‘All Grown Up’ by Shum: nuanced, emotional performances. 

And, oh boy, it gets emotional. A whirlwind of events culminates in Jason cheating on Peter with Ivy, the star-crossed relationship of the two boys reflecting their performances as Romeo and Juliet in the school play; Ivy getting pregnant as a result; Peter urging Jason to go public with their relationship; Jason pushing Peter away; lack of communication; fear of growing up; the hardships of being truthful with one’s parents… and, ultimately, Jason overdoses on drugs and collapses on the stage of the school’s last performance, dying in Peter’s arms. 

In the pause between the climactic performance and the aftermath, the darkness of the stage moving into the next scene was broken only by the subdued sniffles of the audience. I’ve never seen so many people openly crying at the end of a show. The storm settles, the performance ends, and you’re ripped out of the lives of these characters you have come to love so much. All that’s left to do is walk home (and perhaps even look up the songs on Spotify…). As far as adaptations go, I don’t think Bare could’ve asked for a better group of people to bring it to life. 


Special thanks to Francis Lawson.