The story of Bare begins and ends in rays of fractured light – with the stained glass windows that form its core motif. Hanging above the characters, the twin windows depict two men reaching for one another across an abyss of blackness, punctuated by a dangling crucifix. It is this abyss that forms the essence of Bare – the space between the beautiful and the ugly, between the closed mind and the open one, and above all, between love that is permitted and love that is forbidden. The story always returns to the space between the windows, an emptiness which delimits the edges of this cloistered world, visually circumscribing the separation between the acceptable and the prohibited.
The characters of Bare attempt to fill this empty space by trying to replace doubt with certainty – to varying levels of success. Bare is so moving because it appeals to the battle against doubt that rages within each of us. There is the overshadowed younger sibling, jealous of her brother’s success but careful to mask her self-doubt with displays of cruelty, portrayed by the brilliant Lucy Dickson. Then there is the vocally powerful Kitty Sillars, who becomes the gorgeous girl much admired by the boys but deeply saddened that she has never made an emotional connection with any of them.
Then there are the two leads, the schoolboys Jason and Peter, whose chemistry electrifies the stage from the moment they first touch foreheads and lock eyes. With a light tenor voice that rings like clear flowing water, Joe Pitts becomes Peter, a young man tired of living a lie but unsure of how to find the words to express the truth. And with a rougher, more robust voice, Ed Limb transforms into the deeply insecure Jason, who struggles to reconcile his love for Peter with the ideal Catholic student he is perceived to be.
The music of Bare is remarkably varied, as if to reflect both the hopes and conflicts of Jason and Peter. Underpinning the score is a ghostly piano line that returns again and again, as if to express the core thread of love that runs through the sadness that is increasingly layered over it. The songs themselves range from soft, almost whispered ballads to the wailing peals of gospel – the cast must be commended for mastering such a diversity of styles.
Bare does not demonise religion, nor does it solely praise it – in fact, the play is so convincing because of the relentless ambiguity religion is assigned within it. Bare is careful to present Catholicism as anything but monolithic: while this is a world of dark confessionals, an intimidating priest, and preoccupation with sin, it is also a world of love, forgiveness, and a sassily irreverent nun (played stunningly by the hilarious Emily Murray). This is a world of staunch tradition but also of infinite love, and Bare combines both sides of modern religion, setting the characters loose to navigate the grey space between them. Catholicism is not the villain of Bare – rather it is the deep-seated fear of what others might think of our true identities that ultimately poses the most danger to Jason and Peter.
As one character points out, "Two folks want to fall in love – if no one's hurt, what's wrong with that?" And at the end of Bare, when the audience leapt up in a standing ovation, it was as if they were providing the answer.
Bare plays at the ADC Theatre, 7.45 p.m. until Saturday. Tickets are available here.