Taken in its context: a small scale, six-piece performance meant for continuous giggles, Gap Year: A New Musical Comedy made for a swell fit in the intimate Old Fire Station Theatre. Though not quite “New”, as it plays off the consistent just-leaving-high-school tropes of new friends, unfortunate crushes, and the search to “find oneself”, the musical keeps one laughing while not stepping too hard on too many toes.
Joe Hinds performed a humorous yet solid leading role as Tom, the nervous high school over-achiever, who attempts to flee expectations by taking a three-month backpacking trip through Australia. Tom meets traveling companion Holly (played by Bethan McCann) before departing, and she proves to be the willing agent in pushing him from mishap to revelation. Gap Year employs all the conventions one would imagine while backpacking in Australia: diving in the Great Barrier Reef, sleeping through nights at a rat-infested hostel, trekking around Ayer’s Rock, and touring Sydney. Yet each event is done with a witty twist and an ever-pleasant array of characters from a cokehead bus driver to obnoxious American cheerleaders to a posh, “chundering” Gideon (a certain nod to the Youtube sensation of which the idea for this musical germinates).
From a musical perspective, the songs are fluid and fun. Though composers Tim Gilvin and Patrick Stockbridge seem like relative newcomers to the musical game, they sport impressive resumes and do not disappoint with Gap Year. Unfortunately, their songs make the common mistake of trying to do too much in a small space. Many of the catchy tunes, though pleasant at first, hang around a tad too long and often pair cluttering layers of lyrics, which only prove unintelligible. Yet these slights are more than remedied by the impeccable harmonization of the entire cast with each slip-up quickly buttered over, like honey to the Uni-bred, backpacker-at-heart’s ears. When they are on it, they are utterly melodious, and none are left unimpressed.
As for the comedy, scriptwriter Dan John certainly succeeds in keeping the crowd in high spirits at a quick pace. Gap Year has the fair share of sexual puns, queer asides, and foreigner bashing that one would assume of a play written and acted by a cast of twenty-somethings, but they pull it off in a reasonably respectable manner. Though much of the comedy is somewhat predictable, it is passed around in a light-hearted banter that makes it hard to suppress a constant chuckle.
The cast of six works as a solid unit, remarkably for such widespread newcomers. Never is a role irrelevant. And because of the small number, it is often the minor role-players who bear the challenges of putting on varying characters (I assume Glee had much to do with the cheerleaders’ ability to sing in unwavering American accents). All in all, Gap Year is enticingly active and charming. The musical certainly tops whatever else you were planning on doing this evening, be it “chundering” up those three-pound Jagerbombs or blasting club remixes of Rihanna down your ear holes. And the final message of “Just go to Uni, you wuss! It’ll be fun!” is something any self-interested Oxonian can relate to with a smile.
3 AND A HALF STARS