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David Walliams’ Gangsta Granny Live on Stage

Gangsta Granny 2018 at the Birmingham Stage Company. Photo by Mark Douet
Gangsta Granny 2018 at the Birmingham Stage Company. Photo by Mark Douet

Inheriting Roald Dahl’s mantle David Walliams has become a global best-selling (twenty-three million copies to be precise) children’s writer with a canon of ten chartbusting novels and six hilarious picture books. Gangsta Granny is the second of his books (the other being the alliterative Awful Auntie) to be adapted for the West End theatre by the brilliant Neal Foster of the Birmingham Stage Company.

Gangsta Granny is a family show which successfully bonds generations together. Two neglected family members, Granny (Louise Bailey) and eleven-year-old Ben (Tom Cawte) are thrown together every Friday night as Ben’s selfish mum (Jenny Gayner) and dad (Jason Furnival) go ballroom dancing. Like Matilda in Dahl’s novel, Ben has to fend for himself. He dreads going to his Granny’s because she smells of cabbage, serves cabbage soup and cabbage cake, farts frequently and there is nothing to do in her house. She also has disgusting habits like spitting on a cloth before wiping Ben’s face. In fact, going to Granny’s gives Ben nightmares. In a comic dream sequence, we see Ben being bounced around like a pinball by his parents dressed in cabbage suits like giant Telly Tubbies. Overhearing Ben reveal all this to his mum, Granny decides to show Ben that she is far from boring. She turns into a cat burglar. Going out at night using her mobility scooter as her getaway car. Suddenly Ben is transfixed – his boring old Granny is now super cool. This connection between Ben and his Granny is sealed with the rap song ‘Gangsta Granny’ which the pair sing at the end of Act 1. With Ben wearing a huge gold chain and medallion around his neck body popping and Granny beatboxing the transformation is complete.

Act 2 sees Ben and Granny plan the biggest heist of all time. To rob the Crown Jewels from The Tower of London. Ben knows all about plumbing and subscribes to Plumbing Weekly magazine. From his reading, he has discovered a disused sewage pipe that they can swim through and get into the Tower. Meanwhile a nosey neighbour Mr Parker (Jason Furnival) a one-man neighbourhood watch has got it into his head that something suspicious is going on. A wonderful farce ensues as Mr Parker barges into the house and Granny pretends to be doing naked Yoga, albeit in her underwear. This is a scene worthy of Alan Ayckbourn or Joe Orton.

There are many fine comic performances to savour. Jenny Gayner as Mum is a classic Essex girl, works in a nail parlour, or as she puts “I’m a nail technician“, dresses in heels and leopard skin outfits, whilst fantasying about Flavio (Aosaf Afzal) from Strictly. She does, in fact, get on top of him to administer CPR! Aosaf Afzal gives not one but two comic performances in Gangsta Granny. First as the Indian shopkeeper Raj who keeps Ben’s Plumbing Weekly magazine in the fridge to keep it fresh and has a great line in BOGOF for Ben: “… buy 24 boxes of Cornettos and get one Cornetto free.” Raj even appears in the stalls during the interval offering directions to the toilets for a £1 and asks that the audience buy their ice creams from him and not the ushers! Aosaf makes a second appearance as Flavio from Strictly. He addresses the audience as “Genital Men and Ladies” and then has a heart attack which gives Mum her opportunity to get on top as I’ve mentioned. And then the Queen herself makes an appearance wonderfully brought to life by Lauren Taylor. She sings and dances and farts.

Gangsta Granny is highly entertaining and like a good panto has something for everyone. But beyond all that there is a moral which is loud and clear. We must reach out and care for one another. This production is dedicated to Rose Zierer (1910-2014) who lived alone for many years. Neal Foster was introduced to Rose through a local befriending scheme run by Age UK Camden. He visited her every week for six years and it changed both their lives. Do you have a lonely Gangsta Granny near you?

4 stars

Review by John O’Brien

David Walliams’ most popular story Gangsta Granny is back in the West End for two weeks following its national tour.

This award-winning production, nominated for the Best Entertainment & Family Olivier Award, features an amazing cast, stunning sets and will have you dancing in the aisles!

It’s Friday night and Ben knows that means only one thing – staying with Granny! There will be cabbage soup, cabbage pie and cabbage cake to eat and Ben knows one thing for sure – it’s going to be soooooo boring! But what Ben doesn’t know is that Granny has a secret – and Friday nights are about to get more exciting than he could possibly imagine, as he embarks on the adventure of a lifetime with his very own Gangsta Granny!

Gangsta Granny is my most popular book so it’s wonderful to see the brilliant BSC’s terrific adaptation back in the West End again. It’s a fantastic, award-winning show – and so much better than the book!‘ David Walliams.

Read our interview with Tom Cawte

Gangsta Granny
The Harold Pinter Theatre
Age guidance: 5+
Running time: 2 hours 15 minutes (including interval)
14th – 26th August 2018

Author

  • John OBrien

    JOHN O’BRIEN born in London in 1960 is a born and bred Londoner. His mother was an illiterate Irish traveller. His early years were spent in Ladbroke Grove. He was born at number 40 Lancaster Road. In 1967 the family was rehoused in Hackney. He attended Brooke House School for Boys in Clapton, - as did Lord Sugar. He became head boy and was the first person in his family to make it to university, gaining a place at Goldsmiths College in 1978. He took a degree in Sociology and a PGCE . From 1982 until 1993 he taught at schools in Hackney and Richmond. In 1984-85 he attended Bristol University where he gained a Diploma in Social Administration. From 1985 until 1989 he studied part-time in the evenings for a degree in English Literature at Birkbeck College. He stayed on at Birkbeck from 1990-1992 to study for an MA in Modern English Literature. He left teaching in 1993 and has worked as a tutor, researcher, writer and tour guide. He leads bespoke guided tours on London’s history, art , architecture and culture. He has attended numerous courses at Oxford University - Exeter College, Rewley House & Kellogg College. In London, he attends courses at Gresham College, The National Gallery, The British Museum, The Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, The British Academy and The Royal Society. Read the latest London theatre reviews by all reviewers.

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