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High School Musical by Devonshire Hall Theatre Group Review: An Undeniably Entertaining Evening

Smoke slithers out from the side of the stage, preceded by a stab of feedback from the speakers. We sit in the back row, my mouth agape in awe and confusion. I start to think I should’ve watched the film beforehand. – Louis’ notes, circa the interval.

As children, myself and Louis were plagued by similarly bristling superiority complexes. An obsession with the ‘high brow’, presenting an obstacle to associating ourselves with anything actually fun. This included, of course, a tale of two star-crossed lovers from opposing sides of the high school hierarchy, which was rocking playgrounds all over the world. At this Shakespearean tale we would scoff: “High school musical, mum? No thanks, I’m not like those other kids, take me to the opera.” Little did we know that - fifteen years too late - we would find ourselves in the Riley Smith Theatre on a cold Wednesday evening, directed by intrigue, to see the Devonshire Hall Theatre group’s take on the modern-day classic.

All photos taken by Emilly Yeboah Obeng

It was a impressive feat for the small production team to take on the phenomenon which possessed a vice-like grip on mid-2000s popular culture. With growing curiosity we skulked to the back of the theatre, with open minds and looking forward to the hour and a half ahead.

What we didn’t expect was to embark upon a fever dream of bright costumes and swirling lights, the microphone feedback and choreography evoking the sense of a snowstorm flurrying with enthusiasm through the winter air. Whilst, the production did suffer from a weak sound quality where at times only morsels of conversation could be grabbed over crackling feedback and faulty microphones, the second half of the performance however, brought a change of heart.

Abandoning the pretensions that we had entered the theatre with and succumbing to the undoubtedly entertaining musical, there was a home-grown charm laced through every aspect of this version of Kenny Ortega’s brainchild. As evidenced by the props and sets which had been erected from cardboard and painstakingly hand painted, it was obvious that the close-knit cast had worked incredibly hard on this musical, embarking upon the adventure with the aim of launching a tidal wave of euphoric nostalgia at the audience. When you have the sonic swells of ‘Bop to the Top’ and ‘Get your Head in the Game’ charging towards you on a Wednesday evening, you find yourself in a sink or swim situation, the predicament of love or hate perplexing the reviewer’s pen.

Personally, I loved it. Louis perhaps took longer to leap on the bandwagon – but buoyed by the constant applause, cheers and laughter, none but the most a stone-hearted cynic could resist.

There were some genuinely strong solo performances and tender moments shared between Troy Bolton and Gabriella Montez (as evidenced by the fair share of whooping when the pair kissed). And whilst at times, the dialogue felt a little clunky and the timing a little inconsistent, the audience were never deprived of ample enthusiasm and humour from the cast. Nor could they have failed to be impressed by the sheer volume of outfit changes executed within mere minutes of each other. A clear highlight was Sharpays seemingly infinite revolving wardrobe, as well as the enthralling nature of the various sequined fedoras sported by the actor who played Ryan Evans.

By the end, we were singing along to the heart-felt lyrics of ‘Soaring, Flying’, quite moved by the simple yet effective message that the musical had fed to us throughout its duration. This story of lovers separated by teenage circumstance could make even the Bard himself proud – though his soft spot for musicals is a matter of historical debate. Despite our cold hands and wet hair, we ditched the cynic’s cloak for a brightly-coloured cap of camp, lighthearted fun. The lesson learned? We are allowed to exist in multiple worlds, appreciating and enjoying various, diverse interests. Quite profound really, dare I say, even highbrow?

High School Musical is showing at the Riley Smith Theatre on the 23/02/2022, 24/02/2022 and 25/02/2022. Tickets available here.

Review by: Alice Phelan and Louis Newstead.

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