I caught up with the BSC stage adaptation of David Walliams’ Gangsta Granny in Oxford at the New Theatre where it was spending a week before moving off around the country for the rest of the year. If it comes near you and if you have children to take aged about 13 or under, then I highly recommend it.
The play is based on one of Walliams’ most successful book for children and has been adapted faithfully by the founder and director of the BSC, Neal Foster. I took my 11-year-old granddaughter and her best friend, also 11. They had both read and loved the book and were completely delighted by the stage show, which they felt had caught everything of the book that they liked so much.
The staging by adaptor Neil Foster is energetic and funny. It is very shrewd about what appeals to youngsters; and there is the odd moment just for the grown ups too. Above all, the action never flags, the transitions from scene to scene are very smooth, and the show is just about the right length for kids. The clever set by Jackie Trousdale is infinitely adaptable for swift scene changes. We get everything from Granny’s kitchen to the Tower of London as well as the city’s sewers.
The story deals with young Ben whose Fridays with Granny are a boring torture required because he is too young to be left alone while his feckless parents (who are pretty cavalier about him and about Granny) go off to their ballroom dancing à la Strictly each week. However, Ben soon discovers that Granny is actually a retired international jewel thief and he hatches a plot to steal the crown jewels with Granny’s professional expertise to help him.
The ensemble work is spot on, with everyone in the cast having memorable turns; but special praise has to go not only to Ashley Cousins as young Ben and Gilly Tompkins as wonderful, farting, loving Granny but also to Louise Bailey as the Queen. Her portrayal is very affectionate, her accent is hilarious and she jives brilliantly. And, of course, she too is a Granny.
The night I went the children in the audience were mainly aged about seven to ten, I would estimate; and they were clearly loving every moment of the show. Enthusiastic participation was called for at times and they clearly loved joining in. And the message was clear: don’t underestimate your old grandparents! The BSC has staged several Horrible Histories and plays by Roald Dahl since it was founded in 1992 (along with plays by Shakespeare through Tennessee Williams and contemporary British playwrights). They are very successful promoters and developers of theatre for children. On the evidence of this play, it would seem a good idea for them to collaborate again with David Walliams. Meantime, buy your children or grandchildren the book Gangsta Granny by David Walliams if you have not already done so; and take them to see this extremely funny and very engaging adaptation, especially if you are looking for a way to introduce some kids to the wonderful experience of live theatre.