Gangsta Granny came to New Victoria Theatre Woking last night in a stage adaptation of David Walliams’ popular book. The blurb for the play sets the scene to those of us unfamiliar with the story. One of the things I love about taking people with me to reviews is I might be seeing something I have seen before but it gives me the opportunity to share with someone, especially one of the children and see it again through unfamiliar eyes. This was the other way round, my nephew Gabriel, 7 was my expert guide being as he is a big fan of David Walliams’ book and with a sense of humour that matched.
‘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!’
Dad and Mum (tonight’s performance was Louise Girling) have to keep their date with dancing every Friday and again Ben (Ashley Cousins) is over at Granny’s house eating cabbage soup, cabbage pie and cabbage mousse. Granny (Gilly Tompkins, a warm endearing performance) loves cabbage and the audience loved the sound effects of how the cabbage affected Granny with every step she took and every time she bent over. Of course she denied it with outrage ‘It wasn’t me!’ I think we all know someone like that and if you don’t it is probably you. Ben soon discovers his Granny’s stash of crime books and jewels and makes her reveal to him her history, this is when they hatch a cunning plan to steal the Crown Jewels whilst the neighbour Mr Parker, hilariously played in a League of Gentlemen style by Benedict Martin (also playing dance mad Dad) tries to thwart their plans.
The characters around the family give a warm, funny background to the play, Raj the shop owner and Flávio the dancer (Umar Malik) dishing out sage advice, offers (Raj) and charisma that made Ben’s Mum swoon (Flávio); Teacher (Richard James) inadvertently setting all the lessons around planning a heist of the Tower of London. The Queen (Louise Girling) giving pardon to Granny and Ben and my personal favourite, the Matron, Policewoman and Dance judge so excellently characterised by Alison Fitzjohn who brought a touch of the classic comedies and a great rapport with the audience to her performance.
Of course the play is funny, based on David Walliams book it brings a kind irreverence to the subject but also a theme of the benefits we can all gain from being open to listening to the experiences of the old. Ben realises that his Granny isn’t boring and as they find out, we need to make the most of those who we might put to the bottom of the list for time as we run our busy lives. It is a kind bittersweet reminder to all of us that when we find time in our schedule they may no longer be there.
I loved the set and the costumes reminded me of 70’s children TV when it was all fourth wall on cardboard sets like Crossroads. Clever manoeuvring took us from house to newsagent to Gran’s to hospital, motorway, underwater sewer and Tower of London in an imaginative and fun way only using a few changes and smooth as clockwork. I did feel the first half was slightly too long especially for the younger audience but my expert reviewer aged 7 forgot this in the second half and after laughing like a drain for most of it his opinion was ‘Awesome, can I see it again?’ I think it’s fair to say that is the only part of the review that matters really. Gangsta Granny is on at New Victoria Theatre until Sunday 18 Sept for tickets and more information http://www.atgtickets.com/venues/new-victoria-theatre/