Gangsta Granny – The Belgrade Theatre, Coventry

Writer: David Walliams
Adaptor and Director: Neal Foster
Reviewer: Nicole Evans

Renowned for their grisly escapades of Horrible Histories and their enchanting interpretations of Dahl’s classics, The Birmingham Stage Company is an obvious company to take on the challenge of bringing a David Walliams book to the stage.

Ben’s Granny is boring. Really boring. Like, super boring! His pleas for a hall-pass are ignored by his parents who insist he stays there every Friday night while they go ballroom dancing, a pastime they would love for their son to get involved in. While they cha-cha the night away, Ben is regularly subjected to all varieties of cabbage dish, a game of scrabble and a nice early night, so in an attempt to make the evening more interesting, after feeding his cabbage soup to the plant, he retrieves the biscuit tin down from a high shelf, and discovers a secret stash of jewels… Granny is a Gangsta!

With a very typical Birmingham Stage Company lift-the-flap cross dolls house type staging, the scene is easily set and transformed from cabbage-smelling kitchen right through to The Tower of London as we follow Ben and Granny on their mission to steal The Crown Jewels. Almost topping the set itself is the way in which the three structures are turned and lifted during each transformation, each actor becoming a stage hand in differing forms, and taking on the style of whichever scene is to be set with movement and dance, it makes for very entertaining and incredibly smooth transitions in what could otherwise have been a rather dull changeover. Alison Fitzjohn near enough steals the show in this manner, managing to switch from nonplussed helper mode to full-on expression and wild dancing in an instant and back again, she raises a laugh every time, to quote this reviewer’s seven-year-old, “Mummy, that lady is so so sooo funny”.

Benedict Martin offers a memorable performance as both Dad and Mr Parker, to the point it’s hard to believe they are played by the same person. With his Boycie-esque mannerisms as Dad turning into snooty busy-body as Nosey Parker, he’s hard not to love.
Louise Bailey does remarkably well as Granny, it is easy to forget she is playing the rôle as understudy and seems such a natural fit, it is difficult to imagine anybody else in her place.

Although Alison Fitzjohn comes close, Ashley Cousins, as Ben, really does steal the limelight in the way all good lead characters should. Adopting the personality of an 11-year-old boy, complete with expressions, body language and tone, is no easy task, but Cousins nails it and we gradually fall in love with charming Little Benny and root for him every step of the way.

Finishing off with a beautifully touching and incredibly sensitively handled scene towards the end, Gangsta Granny will find her way into the hearts of old and young alike. Not quite as spectacular as the Dahl efforts but, with a more limited scope for staging and inventiveness, it does well to keep the audience interested and entertained.
Was it all just a ploy to make herself more interesting? Or was Granny really a super-sleuth? You decide.

Runs until Saturday 20 February 2016 | Image:Mark Douet

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