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Gangsta Granny - Milton Keynes Theatre

Published by: Louise Winter on 10th Feb 2016 | View all blogs by Louise Winter

 Reviewed by Louise Winter 9th February 2016 

Gansta poster

The phenomenal success of David Walliams as an author looks set to continue with the adaptation of several of his books into TV productions and now this theatre production by The Birmingham Stage Company. On tour throughout 2016 this adaptation will win the hearts of both children and adults.

11 year old Ben, from whose perspective the story is told, is SO bored of having to visit his Granny’s every Friday while his Strictly-obsessed parents go to their dancing sessions. Having failed to realise their own dreams of becoming professional dancers, Ben’s parents thrust their desires onto Ben whose ambition of becoming a plumber is met with despair and disbelief and in an attempt to keep the peace Ben agrees to take part in a dance competition which mixed consequences.

Despite being bored with visits to Granny, games of scrabble and the interminable variations of cabbage based recipes, Ben is polite, well-mannered and obedient; he’s a good boy – not spoilt or rude and this is a clear message to the target audience.

Gangsta Granny family

image copyright Matk Douet

The pace of the story picks up rapidly when Ben comes across jewels hidden at Granny’s and learns that she was an international thief in her younger days. This captures Ben’s imagination and suddenly Granny is the most interesting and exciting person he knows. Obviously, Granny now believes that stealing is wrong and only ever committed her crimes for the thrill of it and not for the money, although if this is trying to carefully tread a moral line I'm not sure it works. When Ben learns that Granny never managed to acheive her ultimate dream-heist of stealing the crown jewels he sets his mind to masterminding the plan using his plumbing knowledge of the drainage systems of central London. 

Sharp adaptation and direction from Neil Foster, economical and inventive staging by Jacqueline Trousdale and Jason Taylor’s lighting combine to create dynamic story-telling superbly delivered by a small but talented cast who perform a multitude of genuinely funny characters.

Almost every actor plays at least two parts. Benedict Martin as Dad and Mr Parker, the fabulous Neighbourhood Watch obsessive, who is the source of numerous laugh out loud moments and a great favourite with the audience. Umar Mailk as Raj and Flavio has a great comic turn, particularly as the camply extrovert dancer giving the audience some panto-style moments during the competition scene. Alison Fitzjohn is on stage almost constantly as a whole host of characters including a police officer, matron and dance judge; she is a standout born entertainer. Mum, played by Laura Girling, is suitably self-centred as are both parents. Girling perhaps misses some of the comic opportunities as the Queen but to be fair there had been a changing around of cast. Usual lead Gilly Tompkins had been replaced by Louise Bailey as Granny. Bailey was super and makes the most of all her lines and characterisation. She's the source of much amusement among the younger members of the audience with her cabbage diet induced trumping bottom although my eight year old companion was unconvinced there was enough of this; apparently there is a deal more in the book. Goes to show you can’t please everyone when it comes to toilet humour! 

Ashley Cousins as Ben is the most fleshed out character. Cousins does a great job of portraying the initial frustration and sudden exuberance of a young boy who, though at first hating to stay with Granny eventually can’t wait to see her and join her for adventure. He is credible, identifiable and relatable to the younger members of the audience despite being several years older.  

Gangsta Granny and Ben

There are some lovely moments and scenes, the ‘superfast’ mobility scooter, wetsuits and snorkels donned to traverse the Thames and scale sewage pipes – more references to crowd pleasing bottom related dialogue, the poignancy of Granny’s ‘confession’ and her final departure.

Gansta Granny holds a central message which is creatively told and far from saccharine or patronising. It’s a fairly subtle depiction of some of the issues surrounding the perception of ageing, and the experiences of loneliness, death and loss; both adults and children were in tears at the end and despite the upbeat finale of effusive dancing and singing the sense of sadness did remain. My young companion commented on the way home ‘everyone is important’ and ‘old people aren’t boring’, asking me if I could remember when my grandparents died and speaking about how he might feel when his own nanas and grandads die. These were the thoughts that were running through my mind too. That these where what remained from the show for both of us, despite a forty year age gap, is telling and a testament to this production. 

This is a fun yarn, with a valuable message which perhaps helps children grow up just a little bit. Highly recommended! 

Two shows a day at Milton Keynes until 13 February and then on tour until December 2016. For times and bookings visit http://www.atgtickets.com/shows/gangsta-granny/milton-keynes-theatre/

For full details of all theatre dates visit http://www.birminghamstage.com/shows/gangsta-granny-by-david-walliams-comes-to-the-stage/tour-info

Comments

1 Comment

  • Cameron Lowe
    by Cameron Lowe 1 year ago
    Thanks, Louise. There is no more discerning a theatre goer than a critical 8 year old! Lovely review.
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