MISCHIEF Theatre, best known for their hilarious plays that go wrong, branched out into non-spoof in 2019 with Groan Ups, just in time for the start of the lockdown season.
Now the show is out on the road and in Bath until 21st August. Following in the footsteps of Dennis Potter and Denise Deegan, Mischief’s Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields go a step further, having their adult cast play their characters from the age of six through to their mid 30s. And it is very, very funny – in parts.
It opens as four primary school children prepare to welcome a new boy in the class, and before long it’s clear who is clever, who is shy, who is popular and who is the outcast. Groan Ups makes the point, very strongly, that our characteristics are set very early in our lives.
By the time we reach the final act, the “adults” turn back into the children we first met. Imposing a narrative arc onto the proceedings sometimes adds humour and, to judge by the gasp of surprise from many members of the audience, some tension.
There are, as always with Mischief plays, barnstorming performances from an ensemble cast which here includes Yolanda Ovide as the spoiled Moon, Dharmesh Patel as Spencer the insecure show-off, Lauren Samuel as the hard-working Katie, Daniel Abbott as newcomer Archie and Matt Cavendish as Simon, the boy whose frantic efforts to belong end in pain … or do they?
These five are at the centre of the action, but two other actors. Killian Macardle and Jamie Birkett, come into their own in the finale, Killian as the mistaken Paulrus the Walrus and Jamie as the hilarious Chemise, bringing a burst of comic energy into the show, to the delight of the audience. And let’s not forget the ill-fated hamster.
Groan Ups is a not entirely comfortable mix of broad farce and character-driven comedy, at times even trying to be serious and emotionally engaging. Most of its humour is probably fine for audiences under the age of 40 (maybe 30), but its “topical’ references and “‘E dun a poo” brand of hilarity leave Mischief fans longing for more of the brilliant physical comedy and split-second timing they have come to expect.