Writer: David Walliams
Director: Neil Foster
Reviewers: Clare and Mollie Howdon
Based on the bestselling book by David Walliams, the critically acclaimed production of Gangsta Granny, adapted for the stage by Birmingham Stage Company, is currently on tour and myself and my young companion (aged 6) had the pleasure of seeing it at Storyhouse Theatre in Chester. Neil Forster’s creative and fast-paced direction brings Walliams’ irreverent and thought-provoking book to life, with an abundance of impressive performances, delightfully choreographed scene transitions and some genuinely hilarious moments.
Fans of the best-selling book will already know the tale of 11-year-old Ben, who despite his ballroom-dancing loving parents’ wishes for him to follow in their footsteps, dreams of being a plumber. Meanwhile, Ben’s lonely, smelly old granny, whom he is forced to spend every Friday night with, seems boring in comparison to his obsession with his ‘Plumbing Weekly’ magazine. However, upon discovering a biscuit tin full of jewellery, Gran’s hidden life is revealed, and Ben and his Gran join forces on a nocturnal heist that leads them to the Tower of London. Despite its many funny moments, Walliam’s book also has some important messages to tell regarding being an outsider, neglect and societies treatment of our elderly community.
The kinship that develops between young and old is beautifully developed by Tom Cawte (Ben) and Louise Bailey (Granny), who both turn in outstanding performances. The rapport between the two is genuine, making the ending all the more heart-breaking. There are also some wonderful supporting performances and Lauren Taylor’s cameo as the Queen is a stand-out moment.
There are some less successful decisions that don’t quite fit with the rest of the show. Jason Furnival and Jenny Gayner are energetic and amusing as Ben’s parents but their conversion from selfish, neglectful monsters into guilt-ridden parents is too abrupt and there are too many parallels with the Wormwoods in Matilda. Walliams has also somewhat shoe-horned in the significance of voyeuristic snoopers and excesses of celebrity culture, personified through the characters of Mr Parker (played convincingly by Parker) and Flavio (Aosaf Afzal), but both feel a little bit pointless to the over-riding plot-premise. It is undeniable that this production’s true virtue lies in the relationship between Ben and his Gran and the best moments occur when these two characters inhabit the stage. Heightened comedic moments, such as the duo careering down the motorway on a mobility scooter dressed in diving gear are off-set wonderfully against moments of poignancy and subtlety which Bailey and Cawte play to perfection.
Jacqueline Trousdale’s set also deserves a mention and complements Forster’s innovative direction well. Bathroom sinks, beds, shop shelves and phones all seamlessly appear during scenes and the utilisation of kitchen utensils, household objects and even the light switch during Gran’s tales of her criminal past, is particularly impressive.
I loved Gangsta Granny. My two favourite moments were when Raj tried to sell us ice-creams in the interval and when the Queen farted after drinking Gran’s cabbage soup. It made me laugh a lot and I thought that the boy who played Ben was a really good actor. I also can’t believe how young Louise Bailey looks in the programme as she played the old granny so well; I thought she was an old person in real life. This is the best thing I’ve seen in the theatre – Mollie (aged 6)
Overall, young and old alike will not be disappointed by Birmingham Stage Company’s production of Gangsta Granny. It is a fresh, engaging and imaginative retelling of Walliam’s much loved book.
Runs until 14th April 2018 | Image: Mark Douet