Groan Ups – King’s Theatre

Written by Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer & Henry Shields

Directed by Kirsty Patrick Ward

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Settle down everyone, and while you more than likely have plenty to say, fingers on lips, legs crossed and try not to be influenced by this crowd of rabble-rousing misfits. They’re botched mysteries, torn-apart pantos, cracked open the heist-thriller and pulled a rabbit from the hat – but returning with another hopeful creation under their belts, Mischief Theatre take us back to school.

Five friends, growing through the years, share experiences and snogs as their first meeting with young Archie brings the gang together and asks audiences if we choose who we become, or if other variants impact us. Groan Ups takes the audience on a journey as they come to realise the choices and mistakes made in youth can indeed carry over into adulthood.

Shifting through the early years of boogers and cooties to the high-school days of underage drinking and snogging, Groan Ups comes to a close with a reunion, the pay-off for the set-up of the previous two scenes. Lives have changed (for some more than others), and deeds lay bare as the longed-for joviality and usual brilliance of Mischief Theatre begins to eek back into something worth remembering.

But despite tremendous energy, hurling themselves into the roles, the cast of Groan Ups cannot lift the dreary writing. And an unwelcome presence arrives at the doors; predictability. A crime Mischief has never previously experienced, and the antithesis of their award-winning regime.

The level of physical dedication from the entire cast is spectacular, and lord can only imagine how exhausting it must be, merely watching the crew bounce and dart across the stage leaves you with a stitch. And it’s all deserving of a tighter script, which leans less into the tropes of comedy and capitalises on the merits and talents which Mischief have utilised to shake up the theatrical world.

In attempting to communicate the hazards of high-school insecurities and bullying, Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields conceive a progressive plot; the transitioning of time an elaborate and technical narrative arc that tests their abilities but makes for an inventive set-up. The principal issue is a colossal one – it isn’t all that funny.

The physicality of Dharmesh Patel and Matt Cavendish carries laughter, but the flatness of the written humour is tragic. The pair attempt to lift slumped jokes with a measure of explosive emotion and quick-paced timing, all to success on their part – particularly Cavendish as the miserable punching bag and desperate for attention Simon.

Wasted, Yolanda Ovide and Lauren Samuels bring exceptional panache and enthusiasm to their parts of Moon and Katie but often play second fiddle to the male writing in terms of practical humour. Ovide tries her damnedest, but the character of Moon has such little development or change that it’s awkward to maintain interest. But lord, Ovide is determined. In a world where schools now award ‘attendance’ and ‘participation’, Ovide and Samuels deserve to be top of the class for exuberant exaggerations and sincerity with limited development.

This exaggeration and vehemence of the cast isn’t matched by the set design, Fly Daves playing it strikingly safe. At first, the larger-than-life chairs, the scale to convey the youth of the initial characters is clever, but the high-school years are missing in the way of imaginative design, and the adult reunion scrapes a few needed visual gags but is sorely lacking overall.

Now, we all had our favourite lessons at school, and audiences will pick their moments from the production, smashing together a composite of a temperate evening with some legitimate laughs, but those familiar with Mischief know they can do better. Groan Ups finds itself dropping a set, needing to repeat a year or two, but as with all healthy end of term reports, it displays massive potential if it only had a touch more focus.

Groan Ups runs at The King’s Theatre Edinburgh until October 2nd, then continues of tour. Tickets can be booked here.

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