Writer: David Walliams
Adaptor and Director: Neal Forest
Reviewer: Beverley Haigh
Birmingham Stage Company, the team behind Horrible Histories have worked their magic again – although granted, turning David Walliams’ Gangsta Granny into a fun-filled adaptation for the stage is somewhat less of a challenge.
The skill of the shows adaptor, Neal Foster shines through, as it transitions seamlessly from Walliams’ 2011 best seller to the stage, with its short scenes and slick pace to keep a young audience interested. Bright visuals literally bring the page to life, with colourful sets unfolding like pop-up book illustrations.
Ben (Ashley Cousins) and his Granny’s relationship deepens as their adventure unites them; Ben believing Granny (Gilly Tompkins) has an alter-ego as a hugely successful international jewel thief. Friday’s quickly turn from “the worst day of the week” into “the best day of the week”. Following his discovery about her past life, Ben now looks forward to spending time with Granny, who becomes a significant person in his life, the only one believing in his dream to become a plumber. He sees her with new eyes as a real person rather than someone who has always just been old and “boring”.
It is the endearing relationship between Ben and degenerative Granny, which gives credibility to this somewhat far-fetched plot line where the pair scheme to steal the Crown Jewels. Walliams’ use of characters that span the generations provides scope for addressing a serious concern about the intolerance of society towards the older generation. A total disregard is displayed by Ben’s self-absorbed dancing obsessed parents, who have no time for Granny other than for her uses as babysitter so they can indulge in their Friday night dancing ritual child-free.
Moments of real poignancy and heartfelt scenes are juxtaposed with the vibrancy and humour of the piece, manically interspersed with ballroom dancing scenes. The show never loses sight of its target audience, who hoot and applaud approvingly at jokes about Granny’s cabbage diet related flatulence.
Tompkins exuberant portrayal of stereotypical Scrabble-playing, hanky-spitting Granny is spectacular, never dipping in energy and providing plenty of laughs as mobility scooter wielding ninja in a rather dubious getaway vehicle.
The audience interaction scenes with Ben’s mum’s idol Flávio are well received, recreating good old fashioned Saturday night entertainment, Ben’s parents sitting among the audience for this time. Typically the “bum” and “bottom” references have the younger age-group erupting, yet the contrasting raw honesty of the treatment of elderly people, provides a much welcomed serious note, makes this a truly all-encompassing family show.
Touring Nationwide | Image: Contributed