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 The Theatreguide.London Review

Groan Ups
Vaudeville Theatre   Autumn 2019

Mischief Theatre, the folks who brought you The Play That Goes Wrong and The Comedy About A Bank Robbery, now turn their attention to school days, with the same high-calibre mix of great gags and so-bad-they're-good gags.

If it's not quite uninterrupted hilarity, it does deliver the fabled laugh-a-minute, which isn't bad for a 120 minute show.

We meet a handful of schoolkids at age six and then again at thirteen and then, jumping ahead, as thirty-somethings at a school reunion.

While there are loads of verbal and visual gags along the way, the central joke is that nobody really grows up, and they remain throughout their lives the same people they were as children.

There's the posh girl demanding attention at six, running everyone's fledgeling love lives at thirteen and still trying to shape reality around herself two decades later.

The amiable doofus remains as dumb, clumsy and loveable throughout, the Designated Loser that the six-year-olds select to tease and abuse is still trying to win their friendship as an adult, and so on.

Each scene in the play has its own comic focus. The little kids innocently and comically report on observed but not understood adult behaviour, like just what Daddy is up to with the cleaning lady when they spend all that time in the bedroom.

The teenagers try to sort out romances that amount to little more than chaste snogging and friendships that are likely to shift with the speed of their brief attention spans. And the adults finally begin to face the reality of old lies and misdeeds and current self-deceptions.

The jokes are good (or, as I said, so-bad-they're-good), the characterisations, if a bit cartoonish, are recognisable comic types, and a blanket of good will covers everything in benign humour.

There's a good running gag involving a succession of classroom hamsters, a sexual secret that you are meant to guess even before the possessor does, and a couple of new characters thrown into the reunion scene just because they're funny.

The three authors of the show Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields also appear in it (as, respectively, the goofus, the loser and the kid with the secret), along with fellow Mischief Theatre veterans Nancy Zamit (the posh one) and Charlie Russell (the tomboy), and final-scene-enhancers Dave Hearn and Bryony Corrigan.

Director Kirsty Patrick Ward keeps things moving while skilfully guiding the cast through broad and subtle comedy.

This isn't Hamlet. This isn't even The Importance Of Being Earnest. But this is fun.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review - Groan Ups  - Vaudeville Theatre 2019

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