Mischief Theatre has built up a solid reputation of creating some of the funniest shows going with its Olivier Award-winning productions, but how did the company’s latest production ‘Groan Ups’ shape up to its predecessors?
AD: Press night / gifted tickets
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When you see the name Mischief Theatre, chances are that you’ve probably heard of them, and if you haven’t, then you can be sure that you’ve heard the names of some of their award-winning shows.
Mischief is the company behind the brilliantly funny ‘Goes Wrong’ shows. It’s picked up Olivier Awards for its productions that go wrong in every way. They’re so funny, that on the first time I saw Pan Goes Wrong – where an amateur dramatics company try their very best to put on a performance of Peter Pan and everything that can go wrong, does – I thought I might need to take a little break outside from how much my stomach hurt from laughing.
Despite a challenging 2020, Mischief found ways of keeping the country entertained during lockdown. Weekly screenings of The Goes Wrong Show meant that viewers could tune into for a much-needed hour of nonsense in a time where everything was hugely challenging, the company truly excels in what it does best.
But 2021 has brought the company back to the stage, touring some of its biggest shows across the UK to inject some laughter back into the world of theatre, and boy has the audience missed them.
Groan Ups is Mischief’s latest venture that has enjoyed a stint in the West End before hitting the road. Stepping away from the signature storylines that see The Cornley Drama Society putting on a show where everything goes wrong, Groan Ups is a comedy play that’s all about growing up and the challenges that come with it.
It follows a group of six-year-olds on their journey through to their teenage years and secondary school and into adulthood, raising the question of do we really grow up, or is our inner child always there?
Mischief’s previous productions have had sold-out runs in the West End and proved to be a smash-hit with audiences and critics alike, so to steer away from its signature ‘Goes Wrong’ shows with Groan Ups felt like it was always going to be a bit of a risk.
While there’s no denying that the cast are fantastic, the opening scene is brilliantly clever and will have you laughing and they are outstanding in channelling their inner child and teens, Groan Ups felt like it slightly lacked that spark that so many have come to associate with Mischief Comedy, but some might say it may be unfair to Mischief’s shows that came before it.
Slapstick humour feels like it’s taken a bit of a backseat in this instance in exchange for more serious topics such as sexuality and friendship. It’s far more poignant than you might expect. In turn, there are moments of glimmer where the real Mischief comedy comes through, and that reflected straight away in the eruption of laughter from the audience, yet there were moments I found myself laughing at more than others and vice versa.
The cast truly were exceptional, and Groan Ups is a true credit to their talents in the way in which they take you on a journey of what it’s truly like to grow up. It’s not easy to play a child as an adult, but this cast absolutely nailed it with comedic timing and witty humour that we’ve come to associate with a Mischief production.
While it may seem unfair to shine a spotlight on one specific actor, I can’t deny that Jamie Birkett had me laughing so hard as Chemise, a fake girlfriend hired for a school reunion. Meanwhile, Dharmesh Patel’s adventures with hamsters as the cool kid, Spencer, were equally hilarious.
There are times that you’ll relate to throughout, from made up games with your friends in school, to tantrums and first kisses and even awkward school reunions. Equally, it’s touching and emotional, which feels a little bit unusual but welcoming for a Mischief show and is a true testament to both its writers, directors and cast.
The set design is undeniably clever too, everything starts giant as the characters are energetic children – from chairs to door handles – to make the cast look smaller, and progressively decreases in size as the story moves forward in time. The set is used to its advantage too, adding extra freckles of humour to emphasise moods and reactions that get that warm chuckle from the audience.
So much of me wanted to love every inch of Groan Ups, but it just didn’t quite pack the punch that I personally was hoping for, but you can’t please everyone. It’s still a delightful show that teenagers and grown-ups especially will relate to in more ways than one. Do we ever really grow up? You’ll have to watch Groan Ups and decide for yourself.