Matt Cavendish as Simon, Lauren Samuels as Katie, Dharmesh Patel as Spencer, Daniel Abbot as Archie and Yolanda Ovide as Moon.

Pictures: Pamela Raith

Groan Ups

The Grand, Wolverhampton


This is a real curate’s egg of a production, very funny and very perceptive in parts and, well, less so in others – a grown up teacher in a good mood might give it a seven out of ten.

It is a sort of Shakespeare’s seven ages of man lite, missing out the mewling and puking at either end and giving us toddlers, teenage lovers and young adults instead.

We open with a front of curtain presentation of What I did last weekend by year two which works on one level and doesn’t on most others. To be honest it is all a bit of a mess whose only saving grace is the show surely must get better.

Still, it does set the scene and introduce the characters: We have Moon, played with bags of enthusiasm and hysteria by Yolanda Ovide. Moon’s parents hardly see her and she is left much to her own devices, bringing herself up.

Then there is Spencer, believably played by Dharmesh Patel in his superhero cape. Spencer has a problem with boundaries and is proud of big poos – everyone needs an interest.

Then there is Archie, exuberantly played by Daniel Abbot. Archie wants to be a star and likes wearing his mother’s bras . . . it’s that interest thing again. He has been moved up a year because he is bright and can spell gauche.

And there is Simon, played in a rather unlikeable and needy way by Matt Cavendish. Simon has asthma, a voice that sounds like he inhaled helium, the social grace and charm of a zit and moves around like Bambi not just on ice, but drunk, on speed and in a gale. He also struggles to say church.

teen years

The teenage years: Archie and Moon, Spencer and Katie watch Simon break down dancing

Finally, we have Katie, a lovely performance from Lauren Samuels. We don’t know a lot about Katie but we do about her dad. He is willing to give the mothers of all the other kids a try, indeed any female would be on his groin led radar you suspect, and he likes cleaning – or to be more accurate, the cleaner when his wife is out.

There are some brilliant lines among the over large portions of ham in there, the sort of things kids can come out with.  It's perhaps too long and childish - adults trying to out-child children, but it does set the scene.

Presentation over, we enter the classroom with its giant furniture and more toddler laughs. We also discover Spencer has a penchant for accidental hamster euthanasia – a running theme throughout.

Here we see friendships, pecking orders and young hopes form and change, with Moon unhappy if she is not the leader and centre of everything. There are still plenty of laughs and even moments parents, the real groan ups, might recognise.

After a school awards ceremony, led by Mr White, Killian Macardle, “everyone must have one so most of them are bollocks”, time moves on and we are back in the teenage classroom with furniture and desks the normal size. 

It is a time of sexual awakening, with and without tongues, of parties, of relationships and even greater isolation of the hapless Simon, making the role of misfit his own. We have love triangles with just two sides on show along with  more hopes and dreams, jealousy and, of course, more laughs. Moon and Archie are an item for a while, until Moon finds something better you suspect, while Spencer and Katie are the real thing – as long as Spencer passes his end of year exam and isn’t kept down a year, that is. Long distance relationships never work, Moon tells them. Spencer and Archie are in a band, the Five Red Lobsters. The best of friends, but friendships can also bring betrayal.

adult selfie

The Adult years: A selfie for a reunion to open up a past perhaps best forgotten

That is all setting us up for Act II, and the school reunion at Bloomfields Primary with the size of chairs and desks that every parent, and their hips, remembers from parent’s evening for their infant charges where you sit with your knees around your ears.

No longer children we meet our class again. Moon, self-centred and superficial as ever, is married, from all of six weeks ago, and owns a restaurant  - the only problem being it is just a dream, it doesn’t exist and probably never will.

Archie is a prosecutor, married to Katie, a senior civil servant, who are doing quite well, having just returned from a holiday in Kenya. Spencer is still playing in the band, with success around a corner that never comes, and he still lives by the school working, ironically, in the local pet shop. He . . . failed his exam by the way . . . so he was told.

While Simon . . . Simon sells those funny cakes you, or at least blokes, find at the bottom of urinals. Something perhaps you never think of and certainly never buy and perhaps they suffer much the same fate as Simon.

He is the saddest of all bringing his “girlfriend” or is it soon to be  “wife” Chemise to the reunion, a stellar performance from Jamie Birkett, gloriously funny with immaculate timing. We also get a reappearance of Macardle, this time as Paul, who was the life and soul of the school, the class clown, the acknowledged jester . . . except no one can remember him. It would help if he had . . . I won’t spoil it, buy a ticket.

simon and wife

Jamie Birkett is wonderful as Simon's rent-a-fiancée Chemise

There are still laughs but from the earlier comedy sketches, the well trodden path of adults playing children, we are now into not just groan but grown up drama. Real relationships and emotions honed by school years, some dulled, some sharpened by life.

It is a production which grows up during the evening, the opening is funny at times, with some lovely lines but never gets beyond an overlong, overplayed sketch, the teenage years put some meat upon the bones but the main course arrives with the reunion when we add a little depth and emotion to the laughs. We sympathise with Katie and Spencer and their lost love, for Archie’s dilemma, for Moon’s empty life and Simon’s desperate plea to be, if not liked, at least acknowledged. The characters are starting to become real, no longer adults playing at being kids.

The sets from Fly Davis are clever, three classrooms sized and decorated for the ages on stage, emphasised by Roberto Surace’s costumes.

Mischief Theatre made their name with The Play that Goes Wrong, doing what it says, going wrong brilliantly, they departed that formulae with The comedy about a bank robbery and again with Groan Ups. Does it work? Not really, or at least not as well as it should, but it does grow as the evening progresses. It has its moments, some laugh out loud lines and leaves you with a smile, and a few things to think about as you head home.

That’s more than many a production can claim or offer, so, although it is not a must see, it is not a must avoid. It misses the mark but I still found it funny enough to make the evening enjoyable, and you can't turn your nose up at that. To 13-11-21.

Roger Clarke


Index page Grand Reviews A-Z Reviews by Theatre