Ben is your average 11 year old boy, embarrassed by his parents and their love of ballroom dancing, his Mum’s obsession with a moustachioed aging Lothario and his Granny’s uncontrolled farting. Ben is a bit nerdy, just wants a quiet life and to be left alone to read his ‘Plumbing Weekly’ – well, maybe he’s not quite your average 11 year old – but every Friday night he is despatched to his stay with his ‘boring’ Granny.
Its cabbage soup for starters, cabbage pie for main and cabbage mousse for pudding, swiftly followed by a game of Scrabble and an early night! But Ben’s eyes are opened when Granny overhears him calling her ‘boring’ and reveals she is not all she seems. She is in fact, a Gangsta Granny.
The book by David Walliams, one of a large catalogue now, adapts well to the stage as it has such strong characters and rich, colourful storylines. Neal Foster, who adapted and directed it, wrings every ounce of fun and energy from its pages and creates a fast-paced, slick and exciting show.
Tom Cawte plays Ben with endless energy, spot on comedic timing and wonderful expressions, and soon has the audience rooting for his character. Lauren Taylor takes on the role of Granny for this performance and plays it with great aplomb, charm and humour. Thanks to some convincing body language, we happily accept her bobbly cardigan and fluffy slippers belong to an actual Granny, whilst she is still convincing when she later clambers down stairs, swims across the Thames and rides her mobility scooter like a ninja!
As a touring production, the Birmingham Stage Company make the most of the opportunity to create an ingenious and versatile set. Each stage ‘truck’ turns and twists into many different settings, and with a slide or a push or the opening of a flap, a bed or a television or a shop is revealed. It’s like an elaborate and beautifully detailed doll’s house with hidden compartments and adds a great deal to the overall magical feel of the show.
The costumes, like the set, are designed by Jacqueline Trousdale and are lavish, funny and unexpected. Not the garish creations of pantomime but flamboyant and surprising. Ben’s dream comes alive with dancing cabbages. Granny’s tales of daring-do are populated by Indian elephants and life-size bears who she tames by dancing. ‘Mum’ creates a series of dance costumes for Ben which verge on the surreal and include bacon and egg on toast!
The dance theme carries throughout the show, with each scene change being choreographed and the entire ensemble joining in. It’s a clever device to keep the show moving at pace and means there, literally, is never a dull moment. Jenny Gayner as Mum and Jason Furnival as Dad (and Mr ‘Nosey’ Parker) are great as the slightly pushy parents and supported by a talented ensemble who play a bewildering array of different small roles. There are complex and perfectly timed sound effects which highlight the humour in every moment.
It’s a fun, laugh out loud sort of a show, as the spontaneous giggling from the, mostly young, audience shows but there’s plenty of character and depth to entertain even the ‘grown ups’. It has depth and charm and is highly recommended for all the family. Even your Gangsta Granny.
Gangsta Granny runs at Nottingham Theatre Royal 11-14th July
Reviewer. Kathryn McAuley