Groan Ups at Vaudeville Theatre
If someone had directly asked this reviewer if a play consisting of nearly three hours of screaming, onesie-clad man-babies sounded like a tempting prospect, the answer would have been a resounding no. It is certainly hard to predict how enjoyable, nostalgic and wildly funny Groan Ups, Mischief Theatre’s latest West End instalment, actually is.
The comedy follows a group of friends in different periods of their life, starting off as trouble-making toddlers in their oversized Year 2 classroom (cleverly designed by Fly Davis). In the opening school assembly, we learn a bit about each child as they share stories of their weekend – from naughty Spencer (Henry Lewis), with his penchant for defecating in his corridor, to Katie’s (Charlie Russell) womanising father and Moon’s (Nancy Zamit) posh upbringing. The scene’s obvious sexual innuendos and slapstick cracks set the tone as we learn just enough about each character to appreciate how they will evolve throughout the years.
Time passes, aided by a stream of early-2000s pop favourites blasting over the speakers as the cast reorganises the set, and we see the students transform into angsty, boozy 14-year-olds. This segment particularly resonated with the twenty- and early thirty-somethings in the audience as the actors replicate some of the monumental trademarks of the decade, from old Nokia ringtones to brightly coloured alcoholic drinks. The actors absolutely nail the over-dramatisation of high school struggles, including Archie’s (Henry Shields) closeted homosexuality and Simon’s (Jonathan Sayer) desperate attempts to fit in. In particular, Zamit excels, managing to capture Moon’s girlish, elitist character in a way that kept audiences rolling with laughter at nearly every word.
In the second half, we see the group, now in their thirties, at their school reunion. This segment feels more like an hour-long sitcom special, and is better for it. Mischief Theatre’s tendency to stray from traditional theatrics and embrace gaffes shines through here – even Russell could not stifle her laughter during some of the scene’s funniest moments – and like sitcom bloopers, the audience was loving it.
For Mischief Theatre, success was swift with their Olivier Award-winning debut production The Play That Goes Wrong. They performed it in front of Prince Harry at the Variety Show and Prince Charles at his 70th birthday gala, and toured in the USA, Canada, Russia and more. With great success comes a price, however, as now every piece they produce will be examined under a heavy magnifying glass. In Groan Ups, originality is not particularly important, as each character reflects someone we have all met before. But anyone mistakenly searching for profound meaning in a play like this will come up short, despite some of its more serious undertones. Mischief Theatre is a troupe that knows how to have fun and make people laugh, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
Photos: Robert Day
Groan Ups is at Vaudeville Theatre from 20th September until 1st December 2019. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.