I am a huge fan of the work of Mischief Theatre – ‘The Play that goes wrong’, ‘Peter Pan goes wrong’, ‘A comedy about a bank robbery’ and ‘The Goes Wrong Show’ on BBC. So it was with great excitement that I went to see their latest play, ‘Groan Ups’, at Nottingham Theatre Royal as part of their UK tour.
The play is a significant departure from their previous productions. Whilst Mischief Theatre usually produce high-energy farces with jokes every ten seconds, ‘Groan Ups’ is a more (pardon the pun) grown-up affair, far more character-based with a more serious story hidden underneath the comedy.
The play follows the lives of five characters through their school years, and takes the form of three acts. Act One takes place when the children are six years old, Act Two when they are teenagers about to sit their GCSEs and Act Three as adults reconnecting at a school reunion.
The standard characters that everyone recognises from their school days are there. There’s Spencer (Dharmesh Patel), always getting into trouble but with a hidden sensitive side. There’s Moon (Yolanda Ovide), quick to go running to daddy when things don’t work out. There’s Katie (Lauren Samuels), eager to do well at school but too easily led astray. There’s Archie (Daniel Abbott), wannabe drama queen, lawyer in the making. And then there’s Simon (Matt Cavendish). Sweet, friendless Simon.
Despite more serious undertones that look at the complexities of growing up and working out who you are, this is still fundamentally a comedy, and there are moments where the comedy drifts into classic farce territory (a memorable moment involving several hamsters and a snake comes to mind here). There are also more slow-build jokes than one may be used to from Mischief Theatre – seeds sown early in act one pay off in act three, and make for some brilliant punchlines.
The storyline itself may seem rather obvious following on from the first act (although I won’t give any spoilers here). This isn’t necessarily a bad thing – more a testament to the actors’ ability to portray the characters so well that some of the “big reveals” in act three don’t perhaps have the jaw-dropping moments that the play seemed to build towards.
The scenes also felt a little over-long for my liking, with the action seeming to slow down particularly in the third act, where some jokes felt very laboured (there’s a joke about a walrus that seems to be milked for all it’s worth and ends up being more of an annoyance than actually funny). This is really a flaw with the basic structure of the play. The show starts with high energy six year olds and ends with very reserved adults having a serious conversation. It starts at it’s highest, funniest point and then struggles to ever get there again.
That being said, I very much enjoyed the play. Perhaps I went in with different expectations from previous Mischief Theatre productions. The characters were all excellently played, and perfectly realised at different stages of their life. Make it half an hour shorter, and I believe the play would have been perfect.
Tom Morley, December 2021.