Gangsta Granny, King's Theatre, Review

Show details
The Birmingham Stage Company
David Walliams (book), Neal Foster (adaptor & director), Jacqueline Trousdale (set & costume design), Jason Taylor (lighting design), Jak Poore (composer), Nick Sagar (sound design), Paul Chantry & Rae Piper (choreography).
Ashley Cousins (Ben), Laura Girling (Mum), Benedict Martin (Dad/Mr Parker), Gilly Tompkins (Granny), Umar Malik (Raj/Flavio), Alison Fitzjohn (Matron/WPC), Richard James (Teacher/Policeman), Louise Bailey (Queen/Understudy), Aaron Thiara (Ensemble/Understudy).
Running time

Lock up your jewels and get your panto-head on early – Gangsta Granny’s in town!

David Walliams’ books for children have sold more than ten million copies around the globe, and Gangsta Granny has been translated into 41 different languages. Turned into a comedy-drama film for TV back in 2013, The Birmingham Stage Company have now transferred it to the theatre, aiming to squarely hit the mark for a young audience, who may like to have granny in tow for this one.

Ben dreads the end of the week, when he has to stay with Granny while his Strictly Come Dancing-mad parents go out tangoing on a Friday night. After overhearing Ben phoning his parents in the middle of the night, begging them to rescue him from his boring elderly relative, Granny reveals her secret life as international jewel thief, The Black Cat. Ben marvels as Granny shows him her swag, kept in a biscuit tin (where else?), and thrills to the possibility of the two of them stealing the Crown Jewels.

With Granny’s vast experience and expertise and Ben’s intimate knowledge of pipes (thanks to his keen interest in all plumbing matters), they plan to swim across the Thames and up a connection of sewer pipes into the Tower of London, from whence they will escape on Granny’s mobility scooter. But will nosy neighbour Mr. Parker thwart their fool-proof plot? And is Granny making up her exciting past in an effort to get closer to her grandson, or could it be true after all…?

The larger-than-life characters are all played for laughs: with exaggerated gestures and much face-pulling, the jokes are mainly slapstick and visual. Ashley Cousins as Ben is forcefully enthusiastic and the audience is bombarded with a similar relentless energy from the rest of the cast. But when it works, it works well, with Benedict Martin playing a wonderfully caricatured Mr. Parker that elicited cheerful boos from the audience, and Umar Malik giving an unashamedly OTT performance of Strictly star Flavio, encouraging audience participation and a lot of laughs. Fortunately, Gilly Tompkins as Granny nails the comic timing while also providing moments of pathos and sincere emotion that gives the piece some depth as well as much needed down-time.

Jacqueline Trousdale’s clever set is put to good use, with members of the cast providing the scene changes by unfolding, spinning and closing its constituent parts like a pop-up book – while all the time doing some really naff dancing, which again is blatantly played for yet more laughs – and why not?

There is, however, a serious message underpinning this, with a plea to recognise that older people were younger once and to appreciate the value we can all gain from intergenerational relationships. Be kind to your granny – maybe see if she fancies seeing a show…?

5th – 9th October