[Less is More]
Toa Fraser’s Bare has been performed multiple times since its 1998 debut, confidently making its claim as a Kiwi classic. Simple Truth Theatre, comprised by a group of Unitec’s most recent acting graduates, have pulled together a mostly bare-bones production of the play in an eager act of artistic passion, intending to take the show around the North Island.
Playing 24 different characters, including a parking warden, Burger King worker and Shakespeare-loving grandfather, Brianna Jude and James Corcoran show off their capable acting chops as chameleons, each and every interpretation driven by clear characterisation and idiosyncrasies, both vocally and physically. At times, some of their choices border on the obvious, robbing characters of nuance, but the over-the-topness serves the comedy well. The infamous sex scene between romantic couple Dave and Venus is a particular standout, showcasing athleticism as much as acting. But while the text lends itself to stereotypes, the best scenes offer us clearly recognisable individuals. In this regard, Corcoran comes closer to finding the heart of the characters, while Jude mostly tends towards caricature.
The set design by Rhian Firmin, consisting of a brick wall backdrop, functions as both an offstage space and dressing partition, allowing for quick costume swaps and efficient scene transitions. Zach Howells’ lighting design and Firmin’s sound design also assist well here, though the latter occasionally drowns out the opening dialogue of scenes. The actual need for costumes is also debatable, acting as an unnecessary crutch that goes against the bareness of the text. More impressive would be to let the performances tell the story, which this team is more than capable of.
Utilising what appears to be an earlier draft of the play, rather than the updated version that was performed by Silo in 2007, does date the pop culture references, but as a whole the script stands the test of the time extraordinarily well. Fraser doesn’t tie his characters too closely to a particular zeitgeist, letting them speak for themselves, rather than turning them into mouthpieces for topical issues of any kind. It’s only the now overused cliché of American TV producer that sits awkwardly in the world of the play.
If it sometimes feels less like a love letter to Auckland and more of broad sketch, it’s still a faithful and entertaining interpretation of the play. Directors Taylor Griffin and Rhian Firmin have done well in crafting a highly accessible piece of theatre that should do well on its tour, finding audiences old and new.
Bare is presented by Simple Truth Theatre and played at The Pumphouse until 28 May.
SEE ALSO: Theatreview.org.nz review by Nik Smythe