The latest show from Mischief Theatre – we are reminded at the curtain call that this is the third of their shows currently running in the West End – is undoubtedly funny but a little overlong.
Groan Ups centres on a group of five schoolmates who we see on three separate occasions. As year two children in 1994 they are rather obsessed with scatalogical and sexual matters, wrecking assembly with frank admissions about their parents and themselves. Children, of course, have no filters at that age.
Class clown Spencer (Henry Lewis) has a beard (which must have seemed funnier in planning as he hasn’t in the photo on the programme cover). He is loud, boisterous, and unintentionally cruel to hamsters.
After an interlude in the classroom where we see the dynamic between the children already developing, there’s a jump to year nine in 2001. The friends are now teenagers, and perceptively awkward, convincing as they try to figure out the transition from childhood into puberty.
Katie (Charlie Russell) and Simon (George Haynes in last night’s episode, covering for co-writer Jonathan Sayer) seem the most realistic characters. She provides a depiction of a bored and neglected wife as an adult which rings true, while he transitions from the class weakling to a corporate loser trying to impress.
Less successful as characters are the dreadful Moon (Nancy Zamit), self-obsessed and bitchy, and Archie (Henry Shields), whose secret is obvious right from his year two revelation of what he did at the weekend.
In act two we are in the present day, at a school reunion, where events move quickly into farce and bring the most laughs, with Simon’s insecurity and trophy girlfriend “Chemise” (Bryony Corrigan), and Spencer’s hamster armageddon.
The wordplay is occasionally amusing (“the Prime Sinister”, “he must be executed as a detergent”), but the fast-moving knockabout is what truly pulls the laughs. Lewis and Haynes in particular are gifted physical comics, and some of Russell’s facial expressions are priceless.
Cut back by around half an hour (I’d lose the closing scene, despite the fun costume, and trim down the repetitive character of Paul – we get it, very quickly), and tightened up a bit, Groan Ups would hit its targets more effectively.
As it is, there’s plenty here to justify a nostalgic night out with lines and situations which may well make you shuffle uncomfortably in your seats – remembering your own formative years and being thankful they’ve passed.
Groan Ups is written by Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields and directed by Kirsty Patrick Ward. It runs at the Vaudeville until 1 December.
Photo credits Tristram Kenton.