“They’re Beautiful, aren’t they? The lives we don’t live.”
Groan Ups was very exciting for me, as I have never seen “The Play That Goes Wrong”, Mischief Theatre’s comedy that exploded them onto the Theatre scene. I knew I was in for a night of fantastic physical comedy. And that’s just what I got.
The story is of the “Yellow Group” in Primary school. Five young school kids (played by our adult cast) who welcome a new kid, Archie (played by Daniel Abbott) who has been moved up to the year above. We see their stories and relationships develop and former relationships boil over as they all grow older into adulthood.
Daniel Abbott plays Archie, the boy who gets moved up a year based on his large knowledge for his age. His crush on Spencer, the distracted and troublesome student who gets many sad faces on his report card, is a joy to watch. Watching him slowly adore the silly things Spencer does in class and later still in his adult life is heart-warming and heart-breaking at the same time, as we watch his feelings be unreciprocated.
Spencer himself is played by Dharmesh Patel. His massive physical performance brings contradictive realism to Spencer’s erratic and problematic behaviour. He looks at the world with gleeful blissfulness and as Spencer messes things up over and over, the audience never feels annoyed or exhausted of him, but they root for him to get it right next time. This is something that would not have worked in the hands of another actor.
Matt Cavendish plays the nerdy loser Simon. Cavendish plays this part to perfection, making him loveable and incredibly funny at the same time. Physical comedy coming to the forefront once again but in a different way this time, Simon is a character you feel incredibly sorry for, even as you laugh at him along with the other characters. Cavendish manages to capture a sense of real heartbreak in his performance as he tries again and again to gain his peers approval but is constantly unsuccessful.
Yolanda Ovide plays Moon. The daughter of a very wealthy father, who behaves exactly like that even as she gets older, is fantastic to watch as a young girl. The way she commands the classroom and bosses around her friends in a completely oblivious way is hilarious from the get-go. At points she makes you believe her character is unredeemable through sheer self-centred privilege, but also manages to find the deeper parts of her character that make her so flawed in the first place.
Lauren Samuels plays Katie. Katie is the class know-it-all. A goody-two-shoes, teacher’s pet type, who also has the tendency to follow her best friend Moon into silly situations. Lauren portrays the most growth and change in her character as she ages yet holds onto the little girl who wants to do the right thing, or tell the teacher if someone has done something wrong, even in her thirties.
Jamie Birkett portrays Miss Murray and Chemise. The former; a small part as a teacher who addresses the audience as if we are all in a school assembly as a scene change happens on the other side of the curtain behind her. The latter is her stand out part though, as Chemise. An actress brought in by Simon in a school reunion to pretend to be his girlfriend, so he looks successful and wealthy in front of his peers. Her Geordie portrayal of a very bad, and under-prepared actress who charges by the hour is utterly brilliant. Her delivery of lines she has learned minutes before gets repeated a lot, and every time it somehow gets funnier, showing Birkett’s ability to make an audience cry with laughter.
Killian Macardle plays Mr White, Paul and ‘Fight Captain’. He has the most parts to play and they are all the smallest, but Macardle manages to leave a large impression. His stand-out role is Paul. A character that shows up to the school reunion who we’ve never seen before. He announces that he’s a legend with fantastic banter, but no one can remember him. Seeing Macardle get crazier and crazier in his attempts to jog our main character’s memories is very funny and helps break up the carnage unfolding on stage.
Kirsty Patrick Ward directs this brilliant performance. The way she manages to keep everything happening on stage clear for the audience is thoroughly impressive, as the script keeps many crazy things happening at break-neck pace. Her guidance in the (few) more delicate scenes is beautiful to watch. Push-and-pull acting is used to its full effect as characters batter around feelings and emotions they’ve not come to terms with yet. Ward understands her actors need space to use their physicality to bring their characters to life and to make most of the comedy on display here. Something the audiences gets the full benefit of, as Ward has managed to produce a side-splittingly hilarious production.
Fly Davis’ set design is clever. Managing to use the same set for multiple scenes yet making it look different enough to be believable as another place in another time. Also, the use of over-sized props and set, like huge tables and chairs, is extremely effective at portraying the actors as tiny children and offers some very funny moments.
Overall, this production offers a fantastic night of comedy. It manages to be hilarious, heart-warming, gut-wrenching and very relatable. A lot of comedies struggle to achieve all of these. Multiple call backs in the later years of the characters’ lives make for an incredibly intellectual watch, keeping the story rewarding for those paying attention. This is not a show to turn off your brain while watching, it remains engaging and fun throughout, while never feeling too fast to keep up. The writing on display here is strong and works to the actors’ strengths. This all adds up to a brilliant night of comedy at the Theatre while leaving an impact on you when you leave. Making you think on your own past, the paths you didn’t take, the things you could’ve done differently and the things you should be grateful for.
Get tickets for ‘Groan Ups’ here: