MISCHIEF Theatre made success out of disaster thanks to the feuding thespians and collapsing sets of The Play That Goes Wrong and its multiple spin-offs.

Groan Ups is almost orderly by comparison, with nobody panicking and holding the scenery together. But it channels all of Mischief’s inventiveness and energy into a very funny and sometimes thoughtful account of growing up.

The cast play the same group of characters in childhood, teenage and adulthood. The same school classroom is the setting for all three phases, but in an inspired piece of visual ingenuity, the chairs and desks start out taller than the characters and become smaller as the kids grow up.

The script – by Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields – gets us laughing at the antics of five early-years classmates and then shows how their personalities are forged. By the time they reach adulthood, some have become exactly the grown-ups we might have imagined, while others have gone to great lengths to disown their insecure selves and pretend to be something else.

The performances are all strong: Yolanda Ovide as the drama-loving Moon; Dharmesh Patel as Spencer, the lad who struggles with schoolwork; Lauren Samuels as the high-achieving Katie; Matt Cavendish as Archie, the boy not cut out to enjoy football and pursue girls; and Matt Cavendish as Simon, excluded from the games and flirting and later keen to put on an act and live down his childhood.

We start out in something like sketch comedy, but by the end we’re in full-on farce, with Jamie Birkett and Killian MacArdle given scene-stealing roles at a school reunion where long-repressed grievances come to the surface.

The shifts between comedy and seriousness might not convince everybody. But this is superbly-played entertainment that, after many long months of Covid, reminds you how much fun a night at the theatre can be.