Laughter, tears and thought provoking theatre as the ‘Groan Ups’ head to the Wolverhampton Grand

THE FIRST thing you notice when entering the auditorium at the Wolverhampton Grand, are the giant chairs either side of the stage. They are huge versions of those classroom chairs we all knew so well – Formica the colour of beech wood, stretched over a tubular metal frame.

They set the memory cells floating back to early schooldays and how big everything seemed to our tiny eyes, from the wheels on the bus to the teacher’s desk and the omnipresent hamster cage.

This is clever scene setting by designer Fly Davis and director Kirsty Patrick Ward adds to this by opting to have the fairly lengthy first scene played on the apron, against a closed curtain – with a simple ‘Bloomfield School’ sign displayed to tell us where we are.

It’s here we first meet our ‘famous five’ who are actually four in years – we are going to follow through their schooldays to double digits and finally becoming grown-ups – or as the title states and the action identifies ‘groan’ ups.

Picture by Pamela Raith Photography. s

Yolanda Ovide, Dharmesh Patel, Lauren Samuels, Daniel Abbott and Matt Cavendish – aka Moon, Spencer, Katie, Archie and Simon literally hit the stage running through the stalls and onto the stage. It’s here the size of those two giant classroom chairs put early schooldays into perspective.

So too does the chant of “What did you do the weekend?” as each child in turn bids to outdo the rest in telling what they and their parents got up to – right down to the innocent relating of listening to parental sexual activities.

When the curtain finally goes up, we enter the classroom where everything is still big but not as colossal as the first chairs and yes, there is the hamster cage. From here on in, every scene takes us one step further as our famous five grow bigger and the furniture gets smaller.

Act Two is the Bloomfield High School reunion. Now the chairs are too small for grown ups to sit in. What hasn’t changed is the way Moon, Spencer, Katie, Archie and Simon relate to each other. Old love is rekindled as is rivalry and bullying.

Ovide’s Moon is as bossy, arrogant and vulnerable as she was when we first met her – but add lovable to that too. Samuels’ Katie still worries about everything, Abbott’s Archie is still in denial of his sexuality but his precociousness has been replaced with the art of social management.

Picture by Pamela Raith Photography. s

Patel’s Spencer has graduated from class jester to jokesy pet shop owner and Cavendish’s Simon bears the scars of being the butt of every classroom prank and joke.

Simon brings with him long-legged escort Chemise who he tries to pass off as his glamorous partner. Jamie Birkett puts in a scene stealing performance as Chemise – but then she does have some great lines.

Mischief Theatre writers Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields have become legendary for their modern twist on plays that go wrong, winning an Olivier Award along the way – but with Groan Ups they have added a whole new dimension to their scripting. They belie the myth that schooldays are the happiest days of our lives. Happy days for some yes but for most it’s an emotional battleground – a melting pot we all get thrown into and when we come out we are of course wiser – that is the purpose of the academic exercise after all.

There are moments in this production when you want to reach out to cuddle and comfort the kids and others that make you cringe with embarrassment. There are also times of pure joy and others of true tragedy.

Laughter and tears – who could ask for anything more from a good night out at the theatre?

Groan Ups runs until Saturday, November 13. Click here for times, tickets and more information.


Review by Euan Rose.

Euan Rose Reviews.

Tangled trip away from classic horror is ‘a step too far’ for Sleepy Hollow at Malvern

‘OH WHAT a tangled web we weave when first we practise to deceive’ as the saying goes and this touring production of ‘The Legend of Sleepy Hollow’ is certainly tangled.

I came out not only deceived but also baffled and confused.

There can be no denying that the ‘Tilted Wig’ company give it their all – indeed this team of six consummate professionals spend nigh on two-and-a-half hours dancing, chanting, engaging in much physical theatre as well as multiple role-playing and scene-shifting.

Picture by Craig Sugden. s

Sam Jackson plays the schoolmaster Ichabod Crane who comes to Sleepy Hollow where he meets Widow Mariette Papenfliss played by Wendi Peters Village bigwig Baltus Van Tassel played by Bill Ward with Rose Quentin as his daughter Katrina.

Lewis Cope is Brom Van Brunt and Tommy Sim’aan is Joost de Groot. They should make a stellar team – so what is wrong?

The flaw is in the writing, compounded by the direction. The actors have been given individual complex tales to tell which lack relevance to the main story. They do this in strange and inconsistent accents.

Philip Meeks has taken the simple straightforward classic short horror story by Washington Irving and turned it into something between a cerebral essay on urban mythology and sort of gothic Shakespeare that simply doesn’t gel.

Director Jake Smith comes with a strong pedigree of working with some of our finest theatres.

He should have asked the writer for cuts and changes but instead seems to have added to the confusion by relentlessly leading us up blind alleys when all we are crying out for is a simple plot.

On the positive side, Amy Watts has produced a highly workable and atmospheric set.

Jason Addison has designed some effective and moody lighting and Sam Glossop creative sound.

In addition there are some clever set pieces from illusions director Filipe J Carvalho and good fight direction from Jonathan Holby.

The programme in the form of an old horror comic is very clever and noteworthy.

A ghost story is meant to be scary and I’m afraid this isn’t.

For me the web was far too tangled – and finally – what on earth was that stupid parrot all about?

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow runs until Saturday, November 6, at Malvern Theatres before continuing its tour.

Click here for times, tickets and more. 


Review by Euan Rose.

Euan Rose Reviews.