As soon as I walk into Keble O’Reilly, I’m faced with a hive of activity. Actors are sitting and standing among the seats, listening to the choreographer’s directions. People are chatting and laughing. Someone practises a cartwheel across the stage. I meet the director (Mina Moniri) as the lead actors – Peter Todd and Giani Tam-McMillan – are fetched. In the higher seats overlooking the bustle of rehearsal, we sit down to talk about the upcoming production of Bare which is set to open on the 1st of March. 

After the conversation, they perform a preview of two songs for me. This is Triple Cheque Productions’ new project: they are embarking on the task of performing Damon Intrabartolo’s and Jon Hartmere’s pop/rock musical about queer identity. 

Peter tells me, “Bare is a pop opera, a musical that’s underscored the whole way through, that follows the story of two boys in a religious boarding school, Jason and Peter, and their clandestine relationship and kind of them trying to navigate their sexual identity and various parts of their identity like religion and how that impacts their view on the world. And various things happen which make their life very difficult.” As a person who isn’t often a fan of musicals (no particular reason, just not my thing), the idea of one so rooted in its characters appeals to me, and the choice of music (that I can hear during the interview as the rest of the cast run through some numbers) feels full of life. Gianni elaborates: “Bare focusses a lot on Jason and Peter’s relationship, but there are also many other characters. We’re a very large cast – 17 I think – there are several different character’s storylines sort of intertwined with each other. I just really like the way it’s been written.”

The characters, Peter says, are at the heart of this show: “They’re all so likeable and you just feel like you’re hanging out with them for two and a half hours which is really nice as you do actually get quite invested in each of their own personalities and stories.” The emphasis on the characters promises a story that aims to get the audience hooked on what happens to them. I ask them if they think these characters’ stories will resonate personally with the audience. “I think it focuses on the relationship of Jason and Peter, but I really like the way it also tells the story of the people around them, how they are affected,” Gianni says. “I guess a lot of queer people will relate to coming out and the struggles you can go through, or people who struggle with being in the closet. I like the fact this play tells their story but also reflects the feelings of the friends around them.”

Peter adds that “it’s a really well-written and honest portrayal of growing up and that period in your life. I feel like there’s so many shows and musicals out there about teenagers that are so obviously written by 40-year-old white men who know nothing about what they’re actually going through, and you just don’t get the sense of that in this production at all. These characters are very fleshed out – they’re very real – and you kinda feel like you’ve met and you’ve experienced life with some of them as well, so it’s really engaging to watch.” I get a sense of this in the first performance of the preview. The song is called Wonderland, and involves the majority of the cast. From what I can gather, the characters are talking about an upcoming party. Their energy is infectious; they feel believable as teenagers getting excited about throwing parties they perhaps shouldn’t. The song is upbeat and catchy (I hope it won’t get too stuck in my head). I can already point out different personalities; the party animal, the shy one… 

After the performance, the activity continues; people congratulate each other and immediately go to take tips from the choreographer, who I don’t think has stopped moving since the moment I arrived. It feels so professional. The closeness of the cast comes out in the passion in which Peter and Gianni discuss their experience of rehearsal. “I absolutely loved our first sitzprobe,” supplies Peter, a sitzprobe being when the band gets together and you play the show from start to finish. “It’s the first time you really get to hear it come together. It’s so exciting – I had goosebumps the whole way through and just hearing everyone sing and perform is amazing. It’s going to be a really exciting show.” 

Gianni agrees. “I definitely feel the same way about the sitzprobe, it’s nice the first time you run through everything, though I also think I really appreciated the smaller moments of rehearsal, even things as simple as the little warm-ups we do at the start or the games that we play in-between to keep everyone’s energy up. Just getting to know everyone, especially as I’ve never been in a musical before, so it’s my first time doing any sort of Oxford drama, it’s been a really really fun experience.” This is a collaboration of people united by their passion for theatre. I’m surprised Gianni hasn’t had much experience. He fits well next to Peter, accomplished in the Oxford theatre scene with roles such as Hades in Persephone (MT21) and writing the show Skin (MT22). The director, too, has experience in backstage roles in theatre for the past 10 years in both amateur productions, off-West End, and internationally. Now a PhD student, she has dreamed of directing Bare for several years, and I can see the joy everyone has in being able to bring it to life.

Peter is enthusiastic about the little community that’s formed: “Yeah, I feel like we’ve really bonded as a group of creators: the cast, crew, all the designers and technicians… I feel like it’s a really cohesive group of people and hopefully that vibe will come across on stage. I’m really excited because you can just tell that everyone’s having a really good time.” As Peter says this, I can’t help but let out a little ‘aww’. 

With a week to go until opening night, I can’t resist asking them about how prepared they feel. The consensus, as Peter tells me, is “excitement”. “There are just so many parts of this production that I can’t wait for people to see, whether that’s the dance element, the various things we’ve done to adapt the music and some of the scenes. It’s going to be a spectacle, and I can’t wait for people to come and watch it.” Calling it a ‘spectacle’ feels very apt. After the excitement and joy of their performance of Wonderland, they kindly show me another musical number. The titular song: Bare. I am warned about the tonal shift and it is definitely needed; in contrast to the pop song from earlier, this is an emotional ballad about their love which ends in a kiss between the two leads. It leaves me with goosebumps and shows the range of this show: it can make you laugh, but it looks like it’ll also have the capacity to make the audience cry. It’s ambitious, and from what I’ve seen so far, it has the potential to be a highlight of the student theatre scene this term. I just hope it lives up to what I’ve seen today; a cohesive performance put on by a passionate team. 

“I can’t tell at this point the difference between nerves and excitement, but overall I’m feeling very positive. I really hope people enjoy the musical and what we’ve done with it, and I can’t wait to tell the story of the characters that are in this musical,” Gianni says. 

I ask them the final question: if you could describe Bare in three words, what would they be? After some deliberation, and me confirming that hyphenated words are acceptable:

Peter: touching, joyful, hard-hitting. 

Gianni: gay, fun, emotive.

I leave with something I have not felt in a long time: anticipation for a musical. Seeing it come together will indeed be very exciting for the cast and crew and hopefully translate and prove emotional to the people watching.

Special thanks to Francis Lawson, Mina Moniri, Peter Todd and Giani Tam-McMillan.