The Birmingham Stage Company brings David Walliams’ book to life in a funny, perfectly pitched retelling which packs a surprisingly emotional punch. Gangsta Granny is beloved by millions both as a book and as a TV adaptation. The stage version is every bit as bright, silly, and joyous to watch; perhaps even more so when you get to watch your young companion giggling so hard that tears roll down his cheeks.
The story centres on 11-year-old Ben and his Granny. Every week, Ben is sent to stay with his cabbage loving Granny while his Strictly obsessed parents attend dance lessons. Ben finds his Granny boring, not realising that his visits are the highlight of her week. That all changes when he discovers that his Granny has a hidden past as an international jewel thief on a mobility scooter.
Together, the pair hatch an elaborate plan to steal the Crown Jewels; swimming across the Thames, crawling through a sewage pipe, and knocking out the guards with cake laced with sleeping tablets. Yes, the premise is silly, but kids love to watch a story that becomes more elaborate and improbable as it goes on, particularly if it’s interspersed with lots of fart jokes.
At the heart of Gangsta Granny, though, is a deeply emotive story about the loneliness often felt by the elderly in our society, and the precious relationship between grandparents and grandchildren.
Louise Bailey and Ashely Cousins both gave wonderfully enjoyable performances as Granny and Ben, respectively, but kudos must go to the entire cast for the effort and exuberance they put into the whole show. There’s only nine of them, playing a variety of parts, but everyone wants to be there, and it’s easy to see that the cast enjoy telling this story as much as we enjoy watching it.
Having read the book countless times and watched the TV version, we already knew the ending to Gangsta Granny. Regardless, I still shed a few silent tears, and I have to applaud director Neal Foster for handling a poignant moment with sensitivity…and somehow seamlessly transitioning into getting an audience on their feet, dancing with the Queen.
My 9-year-old son loved the show from beginning to end, and it’s hard to imagine anyone that wouldn’t. Gangsta Granny tours until July, finishing its run at the Garrick. Catch it if you can.