Writers: Henry Lewis, Jonathan Saver, Henry Shields
Director: Kirsty Patrick Ward
Creators of the unexpected smash hit The Play That Goes Wrong, Mischief Theatre return with a show looking at the impact our past has and how it shapes us. Where previous shows have depended on physical comedy and set gags, Groan Ups chooses a different route and opts to lean more into the script for its comedy. This is, unfortunately, where the school-based comedy finds itself floundering.
Set in a schoolroom, the play opens on a group of five primary school children with an 80s soundtrack and some ingenious oversized sets (Fly Davis) to shrink the actors down to their childhood selves, and for the first few moments appears to be another cleverly staged and manic show from the now infamous group. It becomes uncomfortable quickly, however, with a series of adult jokes from what are supposed to be six-year-olds which just play out as awkward and uncomfortable. The teenage years suffer a similar fate with predictable dialogue, and a sense that the writers think teenagers are just slightly smaller versions of adults without any morality.
The second act is somewhat of a mixed bag, when the cast are able to act their age. There are moments throughout when the cast pick up the pace and find the farcical style which suits them best, but it isn’t sustained. While the ending is poignant, the show tries to cram several moral messages into the closing moments and the result is muddled and loses pace, where focusing on one message could have finished the show with an impact.
Scripting issues, however, shouldn’t take away from the abilities of the cast. Dharmest Patel’s Spencer brings a wonderfully manic energy to the show that would otherwise be lacking, while Daniel Abbott’s Archie creates a genuinely heart-wrenching moment during his monologue. Yolonda Ovide and Lauren Samuels too bring as much comedy as they can, although it seems that they are forgotten a little behind their male counterparts. A particular high point of act two is Jamie Birkett as Chemise whose performance throughout the act becomes an anticipated high point with some outstanding comedic timing. Matt Cavendish’s Simon is a child that every one of us knew at school, at his exasperated rant from atop a windowsill is one which could have tied the show together and gives us a glimmer of the potential it has, albeit overshadowed and almost an afterthought.
Like the characters themselves, it feels as though this show doesn’t quite know what it wants to be. At points, especially in the second act, it feels more like a Mischief Theatre show, while also trying to present a more thoughtful and serious edge at times, while utilising archetypal characters. It’s always good to see a troupe try something new, but the script just isn’t strong enough for what the cast are boldly trying to achieve here.
Overall, Groan Ups has a lot of potential, they just need a bit more focus.
Runs Until: 20 November 2021