Theatre review: Groan Ups, at The Lowry Theatre, Salford

Groan Ups cast, 2021, in Infant School form

Groan Ups plays at The Lowry, Salford, until 28 August, 2021 - Credit: Pamela Raith

As the theatres re-open, it’s time to enjoy the release and the relief of laughter. Living Edge reviews Groan Ups, on at The Lowry, Saford, this week 

The team behind Groan Ups, Mischief Theatre, have built a reputation on producing rib-crackingly funny romps that have the audience howling. Does Groan Ups match up to the other plays in the stable (The Play That Goes Wrong, Peter Pan Goes Wrong, etc?) This reviewer isn’t sure. 

Groan Ups cast, The Lowry

Moving from childhood through teens to adulthood, Groan Ups takes us on a journey of laughter and pain - Credit: Pamela Raith

I have seen and laughed my socks off at several Mischief Theatre productions over the years, starting with the unbeatable Peter Pan Goes Wrong, which set a very high bar. Having enjoyed The Play That Goes Wrong at The Lowry just two days before, I had high hopes for Groan Ups. 

I was initially very worried indeed that my hopes were to be dashed. The opening scene is perhaps too long, making it a little painful to watch, as five adults dressed as infant school-aged children recount their ‘What I did at the weekend’ for the school assembly. Funny at first, it soon gets old, and I did think that if the whole play were to be like this, I would struggle to stay seated. There are some gems in this scene, as the children reveal far more about their home life than their parents might wish – something every primary school teacher can confirm to be true – but it’s pushed just a little far. 

Groan Ups, the Lowry, Chemise

The final act takes place at a school reunion, where regrets and reminiscences provide for much laughter - Credit: Pamela Raith

Luckily, the characters are next seen at age 14, about to enter their GCSE years, and their characters – hinted at in the initial presentations – are now more deeply engrained. We now get to see the greatest change in style from this theatre company, as the action switches between fun and pathos. There are some beautiful, funny moments that every parent of a teen will recognise, and some moments where your heart goes out to the character. It’s all perhaps a little heavily signposted, however – it may be that the writers are used to the very flat-footed style that works so well for the Am Dram society characters in earlier plays? It’s too easy to see where the storyline is headed, in short – no surprises or subtleties to later make sense. 

There are many, many laugh out loud moments scattered throughout the play. In other Mischief plays the joy is in the sheer physicality of the humour – farcical romps around collapsing scenery, people being knocked out, players throwing on-stage strops and others powering through regardless. Groan Ups relies on more verbal humour, and much of it works well. The play tells the story of five people’s lives, and how early choices and the actions of other can have lasting consequences. 

Groan Ups, The Lowry - Paul

Paul, who provides considerable and unexpected comedy in the final act - Credit: Pamela Raith

The final act brings us back to the hilarious physical comedy the audience loves so much. At one point the lady behind me was laughing so hard the people in front of me turned round to look. The addition of two new characters helps – the simply wonderful Chemise and Paul, who provide some considerable light relief. Motifs launched in act one (the hamster, just perfectly funny and perfectly executed) come back in force here, much to everyone’s delight. The ending is happy-sad, as is life, and well done. 

Pure, roll in the aisles, slapstick humour is Mischief Theatre’s forte, but this play steps away from that, and while not unsuccessful, it’s not entirely successful, either. I enjoyed it a lot more than I didn’t, and I certainly wouldn’t recommend you not go. You will laugh, you will think a little, and you will laugh some more, which isn’t a bad night out by anybody’s standards.