Home » London Theatre Reviews » GANGSTA GRANNY at The Bloomsbury Theatre | Review

GANGSTA GRANNY at The Bloomsbury Theatre | Review

On tour just in time for Christmas, Neal Foster’s adaptation of David Walliams’ fourth novel is a high production value two-act play with some festive flourishes to provide a celebratory family outing – without dripping in Christmas features. This feel-good show is aimed squarely at Walliams’ fans. If his derivatively Dahlified takes on an outsider boy hero finding the true meaning of friendship/family/love with some hijinks and the occasional utterance of ‘bum’ along the way entrances your kids (as it does my nine-year-old boy), Gangsta Granny is a nice choice for a holiday treat – especially if you can bring a grandparent along too!

Gangsta Granny 2021 by Birmingham Stage Company. Photo by Mark Douet.
Gangsta Granny 2021 by Birmingham Stage Company. Photo by Mark Douet.

Unlike Billionaire Boy, this production hasn’t looked to musical theatre but rather enacts a fairly literal, but lively, telling of Walliams’ best-selling 2011 novel. We once again meet the character of newsagent Raj (Irfan Damani) who appears in both the novels and adaptations of Gangsta Granny and Billionaire Boy. This recurring character also features in the recently released sequel of Gangsta Granny so despite different locations for the two franchises it appears Raj is ubiquitous. Whilst my son enjoyed the scenery-chewing of Damani’s performance (also multi-rolling as ballroom dance heart-throb Flavio Flavioli), I was troubled by the stock Asian newsagent character breaking the unities of time and place across these two different stories and coming off as an unhelpful stereotype reminiscent of some of the more toe-curling aspects of Walliams’ Little Britain days. As a character, Raj reappears in the 2021 sequel novel, so apparently, it’s not a matter of these portrayals not dating well but remain central to the material. It is for these reasons that I am sometimes uncomfortable with Walliams’ work, but also see in it some lovely moral motifs and stronger story-telling aspects to recommend it.

Of course, neither Walliams’ source material nor Foster’s adaptation are famous for their subtlety. The Mum and Dad (Jess Nesling and Jason Furnival) need to be self-absorbed and absurd (but not actually negligent) and the peccadillos of others need to be bizarre and a bit gross (Granny’s obsession with cabbage and its resultant bodily effects literally make this loud and clear). Isabel Ford as Granny grabs her role with consummate skill and manages the physical comedy as well as the play’s comic and tender dialogue with excellent range. It is a service to the story’s moral about not writing off older people that Ford can exude such charm and occasional pathos without ever making it feel a chore to be in her company. Likewise, Justin Davies as Ben takes us on a journey of discovering the joy of Granny’s company and his own growth with likeable chemistry.

Foster has chosen to add some (almost) fourth-wall-breaking energy to the second act with a ballroom competition scene replete with actual dancing. This is probably the most ‘panto-esque’ element of the show, although it doesn’t feature singing or spend long on audience interaction. Choreographers Paul Chantry and Rae Piper bring some entertaining and well-executed dance numbers that set up the ultra-cringe-factor when poor Ben’s ruse of practicing dance (rather than planning a heist) is unmasked. Jacqueline Trousdale’s costume (and set) design shines with a series of great sight-gags in the same scene and elsewhere – adding a rich texture to the show’s already high production values. These aspects to the production give it lustre and a sense of festivity but there were points when I wondered if the play needed to be as long as it is (running 2 hours 20 minutes with an interval). In terms of entertainment minutes per price of ticket, there is a lot of value but I wonder if a slightly more succinct telling would keep the grown-ups from fidgeting in their seats? Nonetheless, my 9-year-old co-critics were delighted and insist I offer nothing less than a 4-star rating. They are, after all, the target market and so I oblige – and confess I had fun too!

4 stars

REview by Mary Beer

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

Birmingham Stage Company presents
David Walliams’
Adapted and directed by Neal Foster
Bloomsbury Theatre 9 December ‘21 – 9 January ‘22

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  • Mary Beer

    Mary graduated with a cum laude degree in Theatre from Columbia University’s Barnard College in New York City. In addition to directing and stage managing several productions off-Broadway, Mary was awarded the Helen Prince Memorial Prize in Dramatic Composition for her play Subway Fare whilst in New York. Relocating to London, Mary has worked in the creative sector, mostly in television broadcast and production, since 1998. Her creative and strategic abilities in TV promotion, marketing and design have been recognised with over 20 industry awards including several Global Promax Golds. She is a founder member of multiple creative industry and arts organisations and has frequently served as an advisor to the Edinburgh International TV Festival.

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