A wonderfully exuberant, entertaining and touching family production has just landed in the West End. David Walliam’s popular book Gangsta Granny has been cleverly adapted by Neal Foster (who also directs the show), filling it with theatrical tricks and turns so that not even the scene changes are boring. Foster is the actor manager of the Birmingham Stage Company, responsible for this tight ensemble production.
The story follows the relationship between 11-year-old Ben, played superbly by the young Ashley Cousins, and his Granny, played with great twinkle and exuberance by the wonderful Gilly Tompkins. Ben gets packed off to Granny’s house every Friday night where he is subjected to various cabbage delights – Granny dreams of making him cabbage coq au vin, cabbage creme brulee and cabbage cobbler. He thinks Granny is boring and dreads his weekly visits. Until he discovers a biscuit tin of jewels in the kitchen and uncovers his Granny’s gangster past.
Ben’s ballroom-loving mum and dad are superbly characterised by Rachel Stanley and Benedict Martin, who also plays the nosey neighbour Mr Parker with comic aplomb. The dancing runs through the show, lifting it along with the sparkle of the glitter ball. The ensemble is hugely impressive as they take on the roles of, among others, teachers, shop owners, hospital staff and police officers.
Jacqueline Trousdale’s set is a delight. Three buildings twist and turn becoming all the locations of the story, including a corner shop, Granny’s kitchen, Ben’s living room and the Tower of London. Because when Ben discovers his Granny’s secret he uses his love of plumbing to plan the perfect heist – a raid on the crown jewels.
There are plenty of gags. Raj the shop owner, played by Devesh Kishore, is always offering ridiculous deals, such as buy 23 boxes of cornettos and get one free. He also stores Ben’s magazine in the freezer to keep it fresh because “it came out on Tuesday and this is Friday”. Ben is urged to “give up his pipe dreams of becoming a plumber” and Granny farts on her exits off-stage which greatly appeals to the young audience. Physical jokes include Granny saying “hold on tight this thing goes fast” as Ben mounts her mobility scooter only for the scooter to travel at a snails pace.
Theatrical set pieces include a dream scene where Ben gets his face wiped by a mop and a reconstruction of an Indian heist complete with life-size elephant puppets and a grizzly bear.
But for all its exhilarating tricks and twists this show is so successful because it has real soul. The growing relationship between Ben and Granny is heartfelt and the message that we should never underestimate our elderly is a strong and educative one. This is the best family show I’ve seen in a very long time.
Adaptor/Director: Neal Foster
Designer: Jackie Trousdale
Lighting Designer: Jason Taylor
Sound Designer: Nick Sagar
Music Director: Jak Poore
Choreographer: Paul Chantry & Rae Piper of Chantry Dance Company
This show is running from the 26th of July to the 3rd of September 2017. Tickets can be purchased at http://www.nimaxtheatres.com.