The trouble with a franchise – and Mischief Theatre is now on it’s 6th (or is it 7th?) show – is that – if you are not careful – it grows a bit stale. Groan Ups has all the accoutrements of the Mischief Theatre brand that we have come to know and love but, honestly, the joke and, yes they are all basically based on the one elongated joke, is wearing a bit thin. The action goes awry, characters act OTT and it ends in farce.
The farce in this instance takes hold in Act 3 after the interval. To get there we have to sit through a painstaking process of meeting the characters at junior school (Act 1), following them at secondary school (Act 2) before we can see them as the well-rounded individuals they are as the “groan ups” of the title.
In those first two acts “groan” becomes the operative word as we get adults playing kiddies saying big, adult words, which they wouldn’t normally use or understand, to get cheap laughs. Maybe that’s a cheap shot as a couple of lines are funny but most arrive with the full fanfare of a Zeppelin-style “you can see it coming a mile off” overtone. Having set that tone with a collection of scatty, loopy, uber-precocious wannabe super heroes we take it down a notch or two further with the same bunch as fourteen-year-olds in a sequence the thematic content of which is pure, unadulterated, teen-generated smut.
The burgeoning irritation that started to take hold in act 1 now morphs into outright exasperation as the paucity of humour and the trite depiction of teenagers as ranty, shouty, soulless, unmotivated imbeciles works its way into
our viscera as we realise yes, we’ve hit teenage cliché central. Some people may find it funny; others may find it just a tad depressing.
Having laboured through the formative years the characters have been well-and-truly established so it’s, naturally enough, school reunion time. Whilst the humour here depends a lot on the set-up of the first half of the show it works a lot better and as we drift inexorably into farce-mode it becomes an altogether more palatable show. The three original instigators and writers of Mischief Theatre – Henry’s Lewis and Shields and Jonathan Sayer – all take roles amongst the five protagonists of Groan Ups so we can rest assured that what we see and what we get is what they wrote and how they want it.
Director Kirsty Patrick Ward does a sterling job keeping them in check and extracting as much of the mickey that is there but you can imagine her saying “shall we do this” and getting a “no” and an “er… no” and a “definitely not” in reply. Lewis plays the fat and raucous Spencer (am I allowed to say that?) whilst Shields is thin and smouldering Archie. Simon, a complete and utter gangling weirdo who’s definitely one letter short of a fully functional DNA, is played by Sayer and I hope, I really hope, he’s acting.
Nancy Zamit as Moon, through kidhood, teenhood and adulthood is just the sort of garish and ojectionable social climber you hope you never have to sit next to on a ’plane whilst, for me, star of the show is Charlie Russell, as Katie, whose censorious glances, pouty shrugs and in-yer-face subtlety append to the show a much needed touch of class.
Bryony Corrigan gives good blonde as Chemise whilst walrus-and-crustacean impersonator Paul (Dave Hearn) is one lobster you won’t mind putting live into a pan of boiling water.
Whilst many people will find the show fun and funny I hope that Mischief Theatre, having milked this rich vein of comedy to near depletion, might now turn their originality and attentions to something entirely new and different.
They have a year-long, three comedy residency at the Vaudeville whose Art Deco inspired interior from 1926 is truly beautiful and, I am sure, will be an inspiration for the company.
Review by Peter Yates
From the parents of The Play That Goes Wrong comes a brand-new comedy all about growing up. Are we the same people at 30 as we were at 13? Does school life determine our future? Do we ever grow out of our school crush? Playing an unruly classroom of kids and anarchic high school teenagers, through to the aches and pains of adulthood, the original Mischief company are back in the West End with their first new play since 2016.
The cast includes:
Bryony Corrigan Chemise / Miss Murray
Dave Hearn Paul
Henry Lewis Spencer
Charlie Russell Katie
Jonathan Sayer Simon
Henry Shields Archie
Nancy Zamit Moon
The cast is completed by Paul Brown, Krystal Dockery, George Haynes and Holly Sumpton.
404 Strand London WC2R 0NH