Mischief Theatre’s Groan Ups has whittled down the primary school experience to five archetypal characters. And the high school experience. And, in fact, the high school reunion experience.
Throughout its two-and-a-half-hour runtime, Groan Ups takes you on a journey through the lives of Katie (the intelligent worrier played elegantly by Lauren Samuels), Moon (the arrogant, but somehow lovable rich kid played delightfully by Yolanda Ovide), Simon (the ‘who-invited-him’ character played by Matt Cavendish), Spencer (the popular class clown brought to life by Dharmesh Patel), and Archie (the new kid who never quite loses his newness, embodied by Daniel Abbott).
Now, the cast of Groan Ups is lighting up The Lowry with a delectably relatable performance that had the whole audience laughing, crying, and indeed groaning.
It asks (and answers) the question: do we ever really grow up?
As the play begins, each character is six years old. Act two, introduced by an end of year awards ceremony, has our characters at age fourteen – and after the interval, it’s time for the high school reunion.
And yet, the performance is delivered almost entirely by this cast of just five actors.
Despite the advancements of modern technology, they cannot shrink and grow themselves at will. So, as the characters grow, the set shrinks.
Thanks to the set design by Fly Davis, their chairs, desks, tables, and charming wall decorations get smaller and smaller to provide the illusion of growth. It is quite marvellous to watch.
Each actor aced each stage in their characters’ life. There were moments during the first half of the show that I caught myself having to remember that I wasn’t watching a genuine school play but watching a group of adults miraculously transformed through stunningly accurate mannerisms and expert dialogue from the writing team (Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer, and Henry Shields).
In an already lively and talented cast, Daniel Abbott completely blew me away with his portrayal of Archie. The audience watched as he transformed from precocious child to lively, nervous teenager in deep denial of his sexuality.
This ensemble cast doesn’t boast a ‘main character’ per se, but – as much as Moon would like to take that role – I believe that title belongs to Archie.
Daniel’s performance packs an emotional punch, to put it lightly.
Through the comedy and slapstick emerges a story with genuine heart; of a boy, a teenager, and a man coming to terms with the reality of his life that he fears he must hide.
His nervous demeanour occasionally breaks out into anger. Overall, an incredibly authentic portrayal of a painfully relatable truth about society and its attitude towards gay men.
Groan Ups is a must-see that succeeds in tackling hard-hitting social issues with the thoughtful and raucous wit that comes so naturally to the close-knit team behind The Play that Goes Wrong and The Comedy About a Bank Robbery.
There is no doubt in my mind that every person at the show last night left with the satisfaction of money well spent.
Let any doubts you may have about this show be dispelled. It, as our six-year-old protagonists would say, is a ‘naughty word’ of a good time.
Groan Ups is at the Lowry until Saturday 28th August. Book tickets here.