This was my first outing to Norwich Theatre Royal. As a theatre kid, I’m ashamed, but I couldn’t have picked a better show to see! Groan Ups is the genius idea behind the creative team Mischief, of such comedy hits such as The Play that Goes Wrong and The Comedy about A Bank Robbery, so I knew that I was in for a treat. It follows six children throughout their lives from precocious primary school children to troublesome teens, and finally accomplished adults at their school reunion. There’s Spencer, the class clown; Moon, the privileged girl obsessed with popularity; Katie, the brainy girl destined for Oxbridge; Archie, the closeted gay boy and Simon, the nerdy outcast.
As with Mischief theatre productions, as soon as I walked into the theatre it was an immersive experience. I found myself nodding my head along to the background music before the show began, as classic throwbacks such as The Spice Girls Wannabe were playing to instill in our minds the 90’s set. It wasn’t just my ears that were greeted with memories of school discos: the stage was set with comically large school chairs and a school’s crest displaying Bloomfield School, was projected on the curtain. This was later emphasised further as the curtain rose to show a giant primary school classroom with an eight-foot door that dwarfed the actors. However, as the children grew older the set became gradually more and more life-sized. The size of the set was something I was not expecting and the cast used it to their advantage, jumping up and down on the large chairs and tables, with one of them even swinging on the door handle to open it.
The cast was small, only eight all together including two supporting roles, but they captivated the audience’s attention for every second in this laugh-a-minute comedy, helped by the many farcical jokes both physical and verbal that Mischief is known for. One recurring joke is around Simon’s unpopularity and his desire for Moon to requite his feelings, so when he shows up 20 years later at the school reunion, announcing he is now wealthy and has a ‘supermodel’ girlfriend called Chemise, naturally it all falls apart. His attempts to publically break up with her to gain Moon’s attention, but she is always in the room when he storms in with a scripted speech Chemise is mid-way through learning. In the end, Chemise is prompted by the others, who have heard it all before, when she stumbles for the fourth time over the script and it is revealed that she is just an actress, hired from an agency, and Simon sells urinal cakes for a living.
The third act was the most poignant; it shone a light, albeit with a comical lens, on the hopes and dreams we have, and the desire to ‘make something’ of ourselves. The six school friends dispersed to a wide range of careers with varying degrees of accomplishment. Katie is a lawyer and Moon is married with the beginnings of a successful restaurant. What relates each one is their desperation to prove they became something. However, soon the facades fell and it became apparent that actually, each of them had their own shortcomings, and it seemed these adults hadn’t grown up as much as they thought they did since they were teenagers. They were still desperate to be liked. By the end of act three, they were shouting and fighting, leading to Katie announcing ‘I’m going to look for a teacher!’
The play also delved into identity and sexuality, and Archie ends up coming out as gay after being too scared to show it. I was not expecting this serious twist in a play which, at this rate, had me in stitches for an hour and a half. There was suddenly a thick silence from the audience as Archie dived into a monologue about fear and sexuality. Not a laugh was heard for about five minutes, but once there was, it seemed the audience was laughing with relief more than anything after being denied one for so long. It was jarring, and although I appreciate the representation, I’m just not sure that this was the right play to be discussing a serious topic in such a light-hearted comedy. The message about being who you are was empowering, but I couldn’t help but feel that it was ever so slightly outdated in 2021 as we’ve taken such a stride even in recent years with the expression of sexuality. However, I couldn’t decide whether it was because the play itself wasn’t set in 2021 but the mid-2010’s.
Aside from this, overall I thoroughly enjoyed the performance of Groan Ups and would recommend it to those who need a good laugh-out-loud night with some friends or on your own. The performance is in Norwich Theatre Royal from the 15-20th of November. Thank you to NTR for the press tickets.