gran head

Crowning glory: Gilly Tompkins as Granny and Ashley Cousins as Ben intent on a right royal robbery

Gangsta Granny

The New Alexandra Theatre

****

DAVID Walliams’ cabbage-loving, Scrabble-playing, flatulent, international jewel thief of a granny has been brought to glorious life to the delight of hundreds of young cheering fans at the Alex.

The world premiere of The Birmingham Stage Compbenany’s adaptation was also enjoyed by Walliams himself who appeared on stage at the end to even greater cheers.

The stage adaptation, by director – and the stage company’s actor/manager Neal Foster – closely follows the book and its story of Ben, the young lad dumped on his gran every Friday so his parents can indulge their passion for Strictly Stars Dancing.

And Gran feeds him a cabbage related diet, plays Scrabble and sends him to bed earlier than at home . . . boring!

Every gran has a biscuit tin hidden on a shelf somewhere, filled with buttons or ribbons or old photographs or even biscuits except Ben (Ashley Cousins) discovers his gran's tin is different . . .

That is until Ben discovers Gran’s secret . . . hidden in a biscuit tin . . . as the queen of crime, a gangsta granny . . . and the adventure begins.

Ashley Cousins as Ben and Gilly Tompkins as Granny create a cracking stage relationship and there were a few eyes being dabbed when Granny shuffled off her mortal coil – and creating an emotional involvement with an audience in what is a rather fanciful children’s adventure is no mean feat.

Louise Bailey and Benedict Martin as the ballroom obsessed mum and dad were over the top fun, desperate to see Ben become not a plumber, as he wanted, but a professional ballroom dancer . . .

Martin continues the fun as the annoying, snooping, neighbourhood watch self-appointed supremo Mr Parker – dual roles that demanded a few quick changes.

Bailey, incidentally, did a fine job standing in for the indisposed Laura Girling on opening night while also appeared in her normal role as the Queen – all part of the fun of being in a small cast.

Around them we had Umar Malik as local newsagent Raj and ballroom star Flavio while Alison Fitzjohn, Richard James and Aaron Thiara gave us policemen matrons, nurses, traffic wardens, street sweepers, Beefeaters and every other character needed.

Foster cleverly uses a whole population of characters to make the rapid scene changes on the flexible set from Jacqueline Trousdale. The set cleverly uses pull out beds, phones and all manner of things on three revolving blocks that can be everything from the Tower of London to a ballroom, to gran’s parlour to mum and dad’s lounge, all with a turn and a few slides. All very slick and neat and tidy.

If there was a fault then the ballroom competition scene could perhaps be looked at again to either be shortened or given more substance. The competition in the book is a beacon of naffness but naff Mr Parker, Gran and Benperhaps needs more sophistication to be expressed successfully on stage.

A small point but it was the one area where children started to get a little restless, not that that lasted long mind you. We were back to the main action before real fidgeting set in.

Benedict Martin as the snooping, nosey Mr Parker crossing fingers with gran, played by Gilly Tompkins with Ben, played by Ashley Cousins, looking on.

As for the rest? The youngsters loved it, as the seen by the prolonged cheers at the end, and when they were encouraged to join the cast in getting up to dance they needed no second invitation. The dancing black cat was a nice touch incidentally.

When it comes to youngsters you can’t go far wrong with a silly story littered with farts and references to bums – although hidden within the fun, fast paced show is a serious message that youngsters should treasure rather than waste their special relationship with grandparents. The chances are they are not going to be a part of their lives that long and they and their lives and experiences are a lot more interesting – and valuable -than youngsters might think. And we oldies will all raise a glass of Wincarnis to that . . . as long as it is not too late, what with bladders at night and all that . . .

Children’s productions are important, vital to the lifeblood of the industry; they sell the whole idea of the magical world of live theatre to the next generation and, from the smiling faces and exciting chatter from the youngsters as they left, Messrs Walliams and Foster and a fine cast have done their bit well. To 12-12-15

Roger Clarke

07-12-15

Gangsta Granny heads off on tour and is at Coventry Belgrade from 16-20 February, 2016, returns to the Alex  from 27June - 2 July, 2016 and is at Derby Theatre 16-20 Nov 2016.

David Walliams talks about his own "Gangsta" grannies

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