Well, it was always going to be a challenge for Neal Foster (Adaptor and Director) and the Birmingham Stage Company to do justice to David Walliams’ Gangsta Granny. This first staging of Walliams’ book is in its pre-West End tour and can’t avoid a direct comparison with both the book and the TV adaptation, particularly when this starred David himself (as Dad) and the fantastic Miranda Hart (as Mum).
I went to the evening performance at the Bristol Hippodrome near the end of its short run there, on Friday 2 June.
Gangsta Granny is the story of Ben, who dreams of being a plumber. However, his parents, addicted to the TV show Strictly Stars Dancing, are desperate for their son to ditch his copies of Plumbing Weekly and get into ballroom dancing. Ben dreads having to spend every Friday night with his boring Granny, eating cabbage in various forms while his parents go dancing, until he finds a biscuit tin full of jewels on the top of the kitchen cupboard and discovers that there might be more to Granny than he thought.
Louise Bailey played the part of Granny in this performance, and whilst she made a more than believable and entertaining Granny (despite her obvious youth in her cast bio photo!), it felt at first that there was something missing in the chemistry between Granny and Ben (played by Ashley Cousins). There seemed an awkwardness in their interactions that made viewing a little uncomfortable*. That is, until we got to the rapping granny scene and all awkwardness fell away (brilliantly done – have you ever tried rapping for more than a couple of lines without dissolving into an inarticulate mess? Can’t be done unless you are legit from da hood).
Things got a little livelier in the second half**, with a few more laughs and a pantomime-esque dance competition scene to get the kids more vocal and involved. I’m going to guess that at least three quarters of the audience (the half under the age of 15, plus a few more) went home and did a rendition of either Lucy or Ben’s dance on Friday night, accompanied by a myriad of farting noises. Well, if the Queen (portrayed by Liz Garland with class and aplomb) does it, then why not?
For me, the best thing about Gangsta Granny was its production. Ikea could learn a lot from Jacqueline Trousdale (Set and Costume Design) and her compact, fold away set. Brick walls transformed into bathrooms and bedrooms with a small tug at an invisible handle, Granny’s house rotated to transform into the Tower of London. And we saw it all happen to the beat of a rousing samba.
Jacqueline Trousdale is also responsible for without doubt the best 3 minutes of stage costumes that I’ve seen in a long while. I defy anyone not to laugh out loud at a sequence in which someone emerges dressed in turn as eggs and bacon, a woodland scene complete with badgers and a valentines card.
Also, special kudos goes to the comedy genius that orchestrated the slowly reversing mobile scooter scene and to both Louise (Granny) and Ashley (Ben) for managing not to crack a smile. I know they’ve done it a thousand times but I honestly don’t think that could ever get old for me.
All in all, Gangsta Granny is well worth a watch and is bound to cheer you up, whether you’re 12, 22 or 62 years old. Brilliantly staged, engaging and funny but I can’t stop myself from saying that the book was better! And unusually, so was the TV film.
* Not helped by the tiny seats at the Hippodrome. Seriously guys, at just over five foot, I am by no means a giant and even I felt like my knees were somewhere near my ears
**Perhaps because there was particularly easy access to the bar for those that wanted it. As the audience age averaged out at about 13, the queues formed at the Slush Puppies and chocolate rather than the alcohol. Also, someone had FINALLY decided to put the air conditioning on at the Hippodrome and not a moment too soon, especially as the seat size makes it impossible to fan yourself with a programme without assaulting the person next to you