It’s probably an apocryphal tale and often attributed to, among others, Edmund Kean, that on his deathbed he is asked how he feels to which he replies, “Dying is easy. Comedy is hard.” And it is a wise aphorism borne out by tonight’s performance of “Groan-Ups” presented to us by Mischief Theatre who you will immediately recognise from “The Play that Goes Wrong” and TV’s hugely successful “Goes Wrong Show” – very familiar faces. Since giving us the first of those shows which was a smash hit in the West End they have travelled to Broadway and, having seen its original production, I can say it was undoubtedly one of the funniest evenings I have ever spent in a theatre in my life. Ever. So you’re probably wondering why this one has only earned two stars. Here goes…
It explores familiar ground with adult actors playing children (“Blue Remembered Hills”, “Flint Street Nativity” etc etc) so we’re not breaking new ground here and we wait for the surprise, the new angle, the interesting take. But none come. This is it. Children doing funny things. Relationships build and crumble as we visit them at three different stages in their growth. A few farcical moments ensure, but little more. It feels like an attempt break away from the goes wrong format and, ironically, it is just this attempt which goes wrong. Until, that is, we reach a scene in which two characters rehearse a dialogue they want to share with others and when they do share it it goes wrong. With hilarious consequences.
Now it is funny. And in parts very funny. But those parts are so far from each other, and the gaps in-between are filled with rudderless and aimless dialogue which really test the audience’s endurance. The actors commit as much as they can, but they know it’s weak and we know they know and they know we know they know it’s weak, but still, they soldier on, which in itself is an admirably quality.
Most striking of all (and we can blame Covid or Brexit or whatever for this) the familiar performers we recognise from the TV shows and whose familiar faces are emblazoned across posters, flyers and programme are not in it. We have an entirely different cast. The original and very gifted cast clearly wrote the show to their own strengths but when these strengths are removed and replaced by other performers it becomes a far weaker piece of work.
But the parts that are funny are very funny. Comedy is hard…
Groan-Ups continues at Wolverhampton Grand until the 13th November https://www.grandtheatre.co.uk/whats-on/groan-ups/
Reviewer: Peter Kinnock
Reviewed: 8th November 2021
North West End UK Rating: ★★