THEATRE REVIEW: Groan Ups ★★★★
Vaudeville Theatre, London
Friday 30th September - Saturday 1st December 2019
As Mr White (Dave Hearn) and Miss Murray (Bryony Corrigan) set towards the lectern to address the audience, or should we say pupils in an assembly, it’s almost a very subtle throwback and nod to what has now become the longest running play in Broadway, and on a hugely successful UK Tour, in the form of The Play That Goes Wrong. For the fans of that particular show who will come to visit The Vaudeville Theatre in the upcoming year as Mischief Comedy take a residency at the West End Theatre, they sure will feel comfort with the family start. This though is where the similarities end though, as Groan Ups simply put is an amalgamation of our school years rolled into a rather condensed two hour production which will see you crying with laughter one moment, to weep with sadness the next.
Mischief this time round have found a way in being able to modernise their storyline for a relatable audience. I am yet to myself attend a school reunion of any sort, but if it’s anything like the final act of Groan Ups ensues, it’s one that I would look forward to, and that’s the beauty; in each of the characters portrayed on stage, whether it’s Simon the nerd (Jonathan Sayer), Spencer the clumsy clown (Henry Lewis), or being as clever as Katie (Charlie Russell), if ourselves don’t relate to these stereotypes, we sure know someone who does fit into them. Having all graduated from LAMDA together, the chemistry is undeniable from this original mischief company, with every member standing out for their own moment to shine. Bryony Corrigan is particular excellent as Chemise, and though saying too much more ruin her motives within the production, her comic timing against Jonathan Sayers as Simon is the true highlight and will have you throwing yourself around in laughter.
Back in 2017, Nigel Hook won the Tony Best Scenic Design for his work on The Play that Goes Wrong, and if Fly Davis’ design for Groan Ups is anything to go by, I could see the same accolade reemerging in the future. In control this time around, Davis beautifully and hysterically brings to life Miss Murray’s classroom in a way that we can re-imagine yourselves at that age of starting school, which oversized doors, desks, chairs, and even an inflatable space hopper to suit. As the school years go by and the set miraculously transforms, Kirsty Patrick Ward does a marvellous job in directing moments which revert back to those early years and takes full advantage of Davis’ design. Also, watch out for the recurring jokes and take note of the lines you think are just throwaway; as the bows take place, you are in for a real treat.
Overall, Groan Ups is overall a fantastic addition to the Mischief Comedy Circuit. Though it’s only completing a short run at The Vaudeville before The Magic Goes Wrong takes its place in December, a future could definitely be seen on the cards if the reaction tonight is anything to go by. When hilarity ensues and turns itself to sensitive and poignant moments at the climax, you feel you have emotionally grown up with these characters your whole life, and that’s the magic of mischief.