Reviewed by Jenny Bray
Groan Ups is a comedy play based around three different stages of five school friend’s lives, from age 6 in year 2 to age 13 (although very importantly ‘nearly 14’) in year nine and then a school reunion when they’re in their 30s. It spans friendships, romance and all the joyous aspects of being a young teenager and experimenting.
First things first, it was so nice to be back at the theatre. This was my first show since before the first lockdown. However, it was a real shame to see that the auditorium was less than half full whereas it always used to be packed.
The Sheffield theatres are situated in the heart of Sheffield. This show was on at the Lyceum, which is the more traditional Sheffield theatre which generally hosts the touring shows. It is well signposted around the city centre and there is plenty of parking nearby. I was pleased to see that the local Q park at Charles Street still has an agreement with the theatres to offer the first hour free if you get a ticket from a member of staff at the theatre. With extra covid precautions in place there are feet stickers set outside the theatre entrance and bag checking and new e-tickets are checked in the fresh air, before entering the building. The cloakroom is not open but the bar is and I was pleased to see that they have moved to reusable plastic cups rather than throw away ones for drinks being taken in to the auditorium. Masks are to be worn at all times, other than when eating or drinking. The staff were all wearing masks themselves, were very polite and were spraying and wiping down surfaces regularly. It felt well managed.
Groan Ups is one of four Mischief theatre productions, with the others being; The Play That Goes Wrong, Magic Goes Wrong and The Comedy About a Bank Robbery. It was written by Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields. The UK tour after being in the West End in September 2019 was due to begin in August 2020 but was postponed until August 2021.
While waiting for the show to start the curtain is blue velvet, reminiscent of the curtains found on the stage in school halls, with 2 massive wooden and metal school chairs and a school badge stating ‘Bloomfield school’.
The show starts with the 5 characters lined up in front of the curtain doing a clap and dance about what they did at the weekend, as infants in primary school in 1994. This includes one mentioning what their parents had been up to that weekend. This scene was a little confusing at times when the children moved to being the parents of the child to recall their story. This initial scene, although replicating young children playing, seemed a little overacted although this got steadily better as the show went on. (editor’s note – this is the reviewer’s opinion) There were some funny revelations though and they set the scene for the characters backgrounds and type. The five key characters are stereotypical school types; Moon (Yolanda Ovide) is the upper class popular one who exudes confidence and expects people to do as she says, Archie (Daniel Abbott) is keen to please his parents by doing well and has been moved up a class, Spencer (Dharmesh Patel) is the joker of the pack, Simon (Matt Cavendish) is the shy geek who wants to be liked and fit in and Katie (Lauren Samuels) is the one who does well at everything.
The second scene opens the curtains to a set with huge desks, chairs and table and also supersize doors as it is a primary school setting, where they all play dress up. After this scene the curtain comes down and 2 teachers come on stage and talk through awards for the end of Year 9. These include a whole chunk of people winning best attendance, one for most improved behaviour and other random awards as they have to give one to everyone. This scene didn’t really add anything to the play. (editor’s note – this is the reviewer’s opinion) I understand that they were changing the set behind the curtain but another assembly style show or the like might have fitted better at this point.
Once they move to July 2001 where they are 13, very nearly 14, year olds, the set has changed to smaller sized furniture and they are meeting in their primary school classroom by going through the window, although this aspect seemed a little odd. It later becomes clear that this school runs all the way from reception to year 11.
The teen scenes were very funny, with them drinking (‘Armagnac from my Nan’s cupboard’ and 4 blue wkd bought for them) and playing truth or dare. Their characters are brought out some more with their very emotional teen actions, with confident Moon being an expert in relationship advice at this point. I loved the reference to ‘when they’re really old’ with an age that isn’t really old at all now I’m past that age!
The final scenes are of a school reunion, in the same classroom but now with tiny chairs. The shrinking chairs was a great set idea. Each character joins and explains to the others where they’re now at. Listen out for what the sales person is selling and of Moon’s amazing business that she really believes in. There are moments of comedy and moments of reminiscence and points that make you think. At this point 2 new characters are introduced, both add extra comedy and humour between some of the slightly more serious aspects. Just who is Paul?!
There are lots of very funny moments, both little giggles of reminders of things from school times and full on jokes designed to make you laugh throughout. Unlike Mischief theatres other shows, the comedy in this show is mainly through words rather than actions. It relies entirely on just 7 actors, with 5 in major parts, which must be quite tough for them as they don’t really get any reprieve all show.
There’s nothing new in the reunion revelations and insights as the characters have been set out in clear undertones when they’re the younger characters, particularly Archie’s. Spencer and Simon’s characters provided the most laughs throughout as the class clown and the misfit. It would be hard not to identify similarities with some people I went to school with, which really helps with the familiarity aspect of the show. It makes it very relatable but with lots of extra laughs along the way. There is a class hamster that features in each scene, although not the same one and each has an amusing name you need to listen out for.
Rating: I rate it a 4/5 as being well worth going to see for some light amusement.
Tickets cost from £15.00
For more information and to book please visit Groan Ups | Sheffield Theatres.
Sheffield Lyceum, 55 Norfolk Street, Sheffield, S1 1DA