After meeting at Drama school 13 years ago the in suppressible Mischief Theatre members have continued to have us rolling in the aisles with their next instalment Groan Ups. Following on from the successful West End located The Play that goes Wrong, and the Penn and Teller collaboration Magic Goes Wrong; the seasonal Peter Pan Goes Wrong and the standalone The Comedy about a Bank Robbery, the work ethic of Mischief is admirable.
Groan Ups takes a slightly different persona to the former being more an observational comedy and does not rely on physical comedy as it’s lynch. It has real moments of nostalgic pathos as it follows the lives of five friends at three intervals in their lives from primary school to the obligatory school reunion. All taking place within a classroom the set reduces in size as the characters grow. From initial oversized chairs and desks to eventually the tiny chair, parents now find themselves sitting on at their child’s primary school parents evening! The detail in this is exquisite, right down to the air duct vents on the walls and the oversized inhaler used by the character Simon. The audience were smiling immediately as the set evoked many forgotten memories of childhood.
Act one hits us with the hilarious Early Primary school day and then the 13-year old’s Secondary School capers. Played by the same actors at each interval we chart how early experiences and interactions mould and influence our lives. The incidents of this time build and develop as they shape the youngster’s future. Starting with the almost universal Primary school ‘what we did at the weekend’ activity which is of course unashamedly filled with innuendos in a none too subtle way. The characters give us their childlike insight of their family life/influences and personalities. Not a discrete chuckle in sight, this humour had the audience belly laughing for the very first silly quip moment. Inter dispersed with moments of quiet, nostalgic realisation this rollercoaster ride was delivered at breakneck speed.
In the second act we are at the school reunion and the cast are now thirty somethings. The early seeds planted and traits of childhood can now be seen to have flourished or wilted at the case may be and the heavily hinted emotional tangles are laid to bare. Covering particularly issues of relationships, class and sexuality it is refreshing, even if it does have to be coated in a child’s innocence, that things are openly said that we as a society are almost afraid to voice now.
The performances by all cast members are strong and carry any weakness in the script through their mastery. Yolanda Ovide as Moon was at her strongest in the Primary school classroom, I found her captivating in this. Simon played by Matt Cavendish managed to spark every emotional response possible from the audience from pity to annoyance. Dharmesh Patel as Spencer, Lauren Samuels as Katie and Archie played by Daniel Abbott had the deeper, more sensitive roles in the second act and all three contrasted this expertly with the comedic.
The cameo of Chemise by Jamie Birkett I can say universally had the audience of Sheffield in tears of laughter it was innocent comic genius whilst Paul’s character played by Killian MacArdle was as intended, just…… bizarre!
You must watch out for the reoccurring gag of the multiple Hamster’s name which firmly gives this production a 00’s era. I lost count of how many hamsters met their demise by Spencer’s ‘flopping’.
This is a light and heart-warming evening’s entertainment and one that reminds us of long forgotten days and highlights what was important to us at differing points in our lives. It really is very funny, and I left the theatre smiling, a wonderfully uplifting and refreshing experience after a long day at work in the classroom myself. Note to self: I really must hide those end of year test papers before my own Spencer-like student finds them!
Groan Ups continues at Sheffield Lyceum until Saturday 11th September. Full information and tickets can be found at https://www.sheffieldtheatres.co.uk/events/groan-ups
Reviewer: Tracey Bell
Reviewed: 7th September 2021
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★