Groan Ups

Sep 29 2021 | By More

★★★☆☆      Flat

King’s Theatre: Tues 28 Sept – Sat 2 Oct 2021
Review by Hugh Simpson

While there is real energy and commitment in Mischief Theatre’s Groan Ups at the King’s, it is in the service of a script that probably doesn’t deserve such efforts.

Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields – the writers behind such previous successes as Peter Pan Goes Wrong and The Comedy About A Bank Robbery – have come up with a gentler comedy, detailing the same five central characters at three different ages.

Matt Cavendish, Lauren Samuels, Dharmesh Patel, Daniel Abbott and Yolanda Ovid. Pic: Pamela Raith

The opening sequence – where a group of six-year-olds, largely unknowingly, present a crude school assembly – is embarrassing (and not in a good way).

To be fair, things do get better in the second segment, where the same characters are now 14 (although you do have to get over the fact that they seem to be in the same classroom and still have the same teachers).

The longest scene, comprising the whole second half, depicts the same central five aged 30 at a reunion, showing how they have moved on (or failed to) and how their school experiences have shaped their subsequent lives.

precision and verve

While lacking the frenetic farcical quality that is associated with previous Mischief Theatre productions, there is still a considerable amount of comedy, both physical and verbal. This is all played with precision and verve, with Kirsty Patrick Ward’s direction notably sharp and the cast showing real commitment.

The set design of Fly Davis is inventive and effective, and there is very little that could be criticised about the technical side of the production. Which is lucky, because the script really needs all the polish it can get.

Daniel Abbott, Yolanda Ovid, Matt Cavendish, Dharmesh Patel and Lauren Samuels. Pic: Pamela Raith

Shorn of Mischief’s trademark gasp-inducing coups de theatre, this is disappointingly thin stuff. The characters never rise above the stereotype, and the contention that school shapes your whole life to such a degree is depressingly fatalistic, as well as failing to stand up to much examination.

It also means that the portrayal of bullying as having such terrible consequences, while simultaneously inviting us to laugh at it, is extremely troubling.

There is something peculiarly class-bound about the whole thing; the characters’ bizarre conviction that professional success is all-important, and managing a shop is the worst thing imaginable, is hardly examined. Similarly, a gay character’s struggle to come to terms with themselves, while admirable in intent, comes across as deeply old-fashioned in execution.

a genuine likeability

Attempts to give some depth in the final exchanges about dreams and unlived lives fail to come off, as there has been too little investment in character development earlier on. This is not the fault of the cast, as Yolanda Ovide’s spoilt Moon, Daniel Abbott’s troubled Archie and Matt Cavendish’s put-upon Simon all have considerable spark.

Lauren Samuels manages to give the driven worrier Katie more light and shade than the other characters, while there is a genuine likeability to Dharmesh Patel’s portrayal of the unfocused Spencer.

Jamie Birkett, Matt Cavendish, Daniel Abbott, Lauren Samuels, Dharmesh Patel, and Yolanda Ovid. Pic: Pamela Raith

Killian Macardle and Jamie Birkett give energy to smaller roles, although once again the comedy is considerably lessened if you don’t find the idea of someone clearly not from the South-East of England wanting to be an actor inherently funny.

It would be cruel to give less than three stars to a production that has palpable farcical energy, and does much of what you would expect from a big-budget touring production. It is also clearly the case that this could have been so much better.

While previous Mischief shows have had wonderfully stark descriptive titles, this relies on an inexplicable pun. The fact that they clearly know it to be so does not stop it being lame.

And sadly, it’s not the only lame thing about it. The structure and concerns seem very reminiscent of Ayckbourn, but in place of his forensic examination of materialism and self-regard, this offers only convention and cliché.

Running time: two hours 20 minutes (including one interval)
King’s Theatre, 2 Leven Street, EH3 9LQ
Tuesday 28 September – Saturday 2 October 2021
Evenings: 7.30 pm; Matinees Wed & Sat: 2.30 pm.
Information and tickets: Book here.

Also touring to Glasgow:
Groan Ups
Glasgow Theatre Royal, 282 Hope Street, Glasgow G2 3QA
Mon 25 – Sat 30 Oct 2021
Evenings: 7.30pm; Mats Thurs & Sat: 2.30pm.
Tickets and information: Book here.


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