HELL SCHOOL: The Musical

Hannah Playhouse, Cnr Courtenay Place & Cambridge Terrace, Wellington

21/02/2023 - 23/02/2023

NZ Fringe Festival 2023

Production Details

Created by a collective from the theatre programme of Te Herenga Waka Victoria University of Wellington
Directed by James Wenley
Musical direction by Lily Fitzgerald
Choreography by Elora Battah


The class of 2009 gather for their high school reunion, but something buried in the noughties has returned to settle a debt. When six students are sent back to school, they must come face-to-face with their demons.

Whether high school was the best years of your life or the worst, join them for this throwback to 2009 – the era of Glee and High School Musical – to celebrate their high school selves… and exorcise some demons.

Nefarious, hilarious, and camp, ‘Hell School’ is an original full-length Kiwi musical created by a collective from the theatre programme of Te Herenga Waka Victoria University of Wellington, directed by James Wenley, with musical direction by Lily Fitzgerald. ‘Hell School’ follows in the footsteps of Theatre of Love’s sold-out 2021 NZ Fringe season of ‘This is Fine: A Musical’.

Think your high school was hell? Well, theirs actually is.

Hannah Playhouse
Tuesday 21 – Thursday 23 February 2023

Content forecast: Emotional Abuse, Mental Illness

CAST includes
Jules Daniels
Sophie Helm
Zayne Barefoot
Lily Fitzgerald

Comedy , Musical , Theatre ,

2 hrs incl. interval

Such fun, many laugh out loud moments, fantastic performances: a Fabulous Thing that deserves to be seen and enjoyed

Review by Maryanne Cathro 22nd Feb 2023

How was High School for you? I remember the people – friends, classmates, bullies, teachers – far more than the lessons themselves, and I have a few recurring nightmares to show for it. As well as lifelong friendships and a lot of gratitude. It’s a mixed bag.

The team who created this musical from the ground up (take a minute to appreciate the magnitude of this!) are definitely closer to high school age than I am, and so for them, high school is the ‘fresh hell’ and this amazing musical is absolute catharsis.

I’ve been listening to the podcast ‘Putting it Together’, in which every single song in every musical written by Stephen Sondheim is analysed line by line. As a result, I am currently in the perfect space to appreciate what a gargantuan task it is to build a musical that works. And Hell School: The Musical works.

This piece came out of the Victoria University – Te Herenga Waka course ‘Theatre 302: Conventions of Musical Theatre.’ A tribute to the integrity of this course is how well constructed this show is and how lightly it sits on its foundations: a great opening number, mysterious characters that reveal their purpose later, a fantastic Act one closer, and so on.

The show begins with the band on stage and a cleaner in overalls preparing the space for a class reunion. The great opening number sets up action later on in the show, to great purpose. Then the class of 2009 start to arrive for their 13th class reunion. During the mingling and chatting, we learn about some of these characters and what’s been happening for them in the last 13 years. Most of this is sung through with perfect pace, as we see some cracks showing – old resentments still festering, some relationships not sitting a well as they maybe should. There are wonderful moments of humour too.

It all makes sense when we find out how and why things turned out as they did, and the first act closes with a shocking revelation and a fantastic ensemble music and dance number. 

Act two revolves around how our protagonists resolve to get themselves out of the mess they have ended up in, and the revelations it takes to make this self-awareness possible.

Such fun, many laugh out loud moments, fantastic performances. It seems unfair to single anyone out but I do so in a spirit of appreciating every performance in this show. The ever cool Jules Daniels’ energy and wit always pull attention, so just as well they can revel in playing such a charismatic central role! Sophie Helm’s Maggie has the volume and projection of a Broadway diva. Zayne Barefoot’s Hearts provides a gloriously improbable PE teacher whose heart is not in the right place, and Lily Fitzgerald’s Ed leads the band with a cool zeal that often left my jaw on the floor. Great choreography by Elora Battah too.

And all of the cast appear in the programme for their participation in production activities from publicity to set to choreography. Music lyrics and composition is shared among a wide group yet the pieces fit together with a single artistic voice. More kudos to Lily Fitzgerald for her musical direction. I really hope we get to enjoy this enormous talent over future decades.

Realistically, the audio was out of balance for me sitting near the fantastic band, and often actors were hard to hear, which seemed to be a combination of head mikes not being turned on in time, and lack of projection. I hope this can be improved with practice. But I am not churlishly going to hold this against this production and invite anyone to see past this to what is unfolding before them. These young people have made a Fabulous Thing here and it deserves to be seen and enjoyed. Go see it and enjoy it!


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