Acting like kids is child’s play for the grown-ups from Mischief Theatre who earn gold stars for being class clowns in their latest riotous stage show.
The gagsters are touring with Groan Ups, a laugh-a-second schoolroom comedy which opened last night at Aylesbury’s Waterside Theatre.
We like to think that our schooldays were the best days of our lives – and for many they were.
But watching Groan Ups makes you appreciate that others found it bloody hard work.
Written by Mischief founders Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields, Groan Ups is immediately, frighteningly, recognisable to all of us who have made it through childhood.
And it gives us a lesson in morality that I wasn’t expecting. While the first act is a series of hilarious sketches about the people, places and joy of growing up, the second act is darker, deeper and more reflective.
It’s the Easter term, 1994, at Bloomfield High School and the six-year-olds in Year Two are regaling the audience with what they did at the weekend.
We meet Moon, the spoilt little rich girl being raised by an au pair, Archie with a penchant for his mum’s bras, class swot Katie, and Spencer, the hyperactive hurricane who is so full of E numbers that he can’t stand still.
Very much on the outside is Simon, and every class has one, whose school days are marked by being taunted, bullied and ridiculed.
Groan Ups’ superbly well observed and insightful dialogue pitches theatre-goers right back to their own school days and the gangs, tribal behaviour, popularity contests, oddballs and stars.
Fly Davis’s clever, oversized set design works brilliantly to distort perception – with a bit of artistic licence.
I know six-year-olds are small but the adult cast barely come up to the classroom door handles – although everything seems huge when you’re small.
Everything’s larger than life (even the class hamster who provides the show with a running gag).
By 2001 the gang are teenagers but little has changed with the dynamics of the group. It’s only when they return, in modern day, for a class reunion – and don’t we all love those – that we see how they have fared with the harsh reality of adult life.
Yolanda Ovide, as Moon, deserves a merit for so, like, capturing the thoroughly shallow, vacuous, vain and selfish girls who head the popular pack in schools.
Dharmesh Patel is a delight as the excitable and frenetic Spencer who roars around in a superhero cape and causes mayhem with his pranks.
And Matt Cavendish goes to the top of the class with Simon, a character who is particularly well-drawn and surprisingly profound.
It’s uncomfortable finding yourself laughing at his misfortune but also empathising with his situation.
By his arrival at the class reunion the show, in danger of becoming too reflective and deep as the cast embrace adulthood, gets a shot in the funny bone with a stand-out turn by Jamie Birkett as Simon’s irrepressible escort, Chemise.
She’s a treasure and beautifully played.
Groan Ups gives a lesson in understanding but it’s taught with skill, confidence and humour from the Mischief maestros. A gold star from me.
Groan Ups plays at Waterside Theatre until Saturday, January 29.