dpm is a Birmingham-based freelancer with experience of arts and lifestyle features.
Mischief Theatre's latest show goes into the classroom
Mischief Theatre have enjoyed runaway success with a string of hits including The Play That Goes Wrong, Peter Pan Goes Wrong and The Comedy About A Bank Robbery – all of which have audiences laughing out loud. And yet with Groan Ups, the team seem to have lost that comedy genius.
The show is different from much of their previous work in replacing slapstick with what they aim to be a more nuanced tale but the magic just isn't there.
The story is simple enough – a group of children forge alliances at primary school. We meet them again at senior school and then a third time when they come together for a school reunion in their thirties. Allowing for an exploration of hopes, dreams, disappointments and deceptions, we see how actions and decisions made in their younger days have affected their older selves – the message being that you never leave your classroom behind.
The first half of the production, when we are in the various classrooms, is sorely in need of a rewrite. From its over-long opening scene in which we are introduced to the children in a 'What we did at the weekend' activity through to a late-night teenage gathering in the school, it is packed full of over-excited youngsters shouting about very little.
Somewhat counterintuitively, the second half, when the adults reunite and reassess their experiences, picks up the comedy pace. Jamie Birkett has an inspired part in Chemise, the pretend girlfriend hired for the evening by Simon (Matt Cavendish) in an attempt to impress his friends. She wanders in and out repeating her set speeches, oblivious to the fact that no one is buying the act.
Directed by Kirsty Patrick Ward, the cast give it their all – packed with Duracell Bunny enthusiasm as children, angst-ridden hand-wringing as teenagers and then dysfunctional or disappointed floor-staring as adults. Yolanda Ovide is a self-obsessed child, teenager and adult as Moon, who even when one of her supposed best friends is at rock bottom, simply asks her to get up as she is sitting on Moon's coat. Dharmesh Patel gives a good comic turn as Spencer as he attempts to replace a dead school hamster – or two. And Daniel Abbott is the seemingly likeable Archie whose own childhood confusions result in heartache for others.
Fly Davis' set designs are one of the bright spots of the show. The classrooms are creative and colourful with plenty of imagery we all recognise from our days in school. There is also a touch of Alice in Wonderland as the children are surrounded by large chairs and tables which, when they return as adults, have shrunk so they can hardly fit their bottoms onto them.
Without a doubt writers Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields can turn out a great show – they've proved that time and again with Mischief Theatre. And there are some brilliant one-liners in Groan Ups but the production is inconsistent. For every moment of sparkle, there are too many which are lacklustre.