Being massive fans of David Walliams children’s fiction, we approached the Birmingham Stage Company’s adaptation of Gangsta Granny with excitement and a little trepidation. What if they didn’t translate Walliams’ clever story and capture his imaginative and laugh-out-loud storytelling to their stage production. It quickly became apparent that the cast were going carry it off and their on-stage interpretation didn’t disappoint.
Ben is an eleven-year-old boy (played by young adult Ashley Cousins) with flamboyant, ball room dancing parents (Rachel Stanley and Benedict Martin). They mean well, but this dancing duo are caught up in their own drama and don’t really have time for Ben or his Granny. As a result, Ben and Granny (played last night by Louise Bailey) are unenthusiastically forced together every Friday night. Ben thinks his granny is the most boring person in the world. She relentlessly feeds him cabbage based meals, even inventing cabbage mouse for desert and their weekly games of Scrabble are the highlight of her week.
Ben would rather do anything than spend time with Granny.
That is, until he uncovers a secret, suggesting that perhaps Granny is not quite as boring as he thinks. As a result, Ben and Granny embark on an exciting adventure, one that will bring them together and will form an unlikely bond that can’t be broken. Not only do they come within a hairs’ breath of stealing the Crown Jewels, they also meet Her Royal Majesty, the Queen, who treats them with an improbable lenience.
Director Neal Foster and his team should be applauded for their inventive use of space, sound, light and costume design. They worked wonders recreating many different scenes from the book and managed to stay true to the original tale, despite the on-stage constraints. Granny’s recounts of her youthful escapades were wonderfully illustrated by imaginative and elaborate costume design and took the audience on a hilarious journey through her many adventures and encounters.
Following the interval, the show stepped it up a gear with many more laugh out loud moments and lots of audience participation. Bens involuntary participation in a dancing competition, which was hosted by the hilarious Flavio and played by Devesh Kishore (he also played Raj, an endearing character that appears in most of Walliams’ novels), and the chaos that ensued, had the audience laughing and jumping from their seats in pantomime style.
All in all, this is a heartfelt cross-generational story told with great humour. Be warned, as with many of Walliams children’s stories, there is a sad twist in the tale, but fear not, this is dealt with sensitively and everyone left the theatre happy. According to the youngest member in our party it was “better than the book!”.
On at the Opera House until Sunday 11th June tickets can be found here http://www.atgtickets.com/shows/gangsta-granny-2017/opera-house-manchester/
Reviewed by Margot Power