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BWW Review: Hilarious World Premiere of DAVID WALLIAMS' GANGSTA GRANNY, New Alexandra Birmingham

The world premiere of David Walliams' Gangsta Granny, brilliantly adapted by the Birmingham Stage Company, turned out to be a star-studded event indeed; the Britain's Got Talent judge was there in person, creating quite a stir amongst the children in the audience. It's small wonder really - his books have sold 4 million copies worldwide and are simply adored by kids.

Gangsta Granny follows Ben, who dreads the weekly torture of Friday nights spent at Granny's house whilst his odious parents attend their ballroom dancing class. Forced to eat cabbage flavoured everything and play inordinate amounts of Scrabble, Ben thinks Granny is old and boring. However, when he discovers that Granny's alter-ego is international jewel thief The Black Cat, Ben suddenly realises that there is a lot more to Granny than he originally thought! Together, Granny and Ben hatch a plan to steal the Crown Jewels in one last thrilling heist.

Neil Foster's adaptation of David Walliams' novel is thrilling and fast-paced. The episodic nature of the production buzzes along with musical scene changes and bopping actors, guaranteed to hold the attention of children. The pop-up, storybook set designs (by Jacqueline Trousdale) are a constant fascination, as beds are pulled out from walls and entire kitchens are unfolded completely seamlessly, without breaking the action.

Ashley Cousins is engaging and personable as Ben; he builds an instant rapport with the audience. However, his physical work could benefit from attention to improve his precision and accuracy. Gilly Tompkins shines as Granny, with a no-nonsense personality and impeccable comic timing - particularly on-board her very slow mobility scooter. Children in the audience enjoy Birmingham Stage Company veteran Benedict Martin as a very Walliams-esque Mr Parker. The entire ensemble are excellent, playing a host of supporting roles with a joy and enthusiasm that is infectious.

Gangsta Granny is undoubtedly a hit with the kids, with riotous physical humour, fart jokes and unashamed dad dancing. However, there is plenty for grown-ups to enjoy here as well, including an especially topical comment about the 5p bag charge. The frequent references to Strictly Come Dancing are enjoyed by all, although the dancing competition scene is an unwelcome distraction from the main plot. Walliams appears to poke fun at his recent role as a Britain's Got Talent judge as fictional Strictly Judge Flavio Flavioli is idolised by Ben's Mum; she even owns (and sniffs) his discarded thong!

At first glance, Gangsta Granny is the perfect festive riot; brash, colourful and full of pleasant yet unsophisticated humour. However, the poignant ending alludes to a deep and meaningful motive. As Ben's relationship and appreciation of Granny develops, Walliams shows us the importance of appreciating and cherishing the elderly. This is a heart-warming note on which to end this excellent production, particularly at this time of year when family is especially important.

Photo credit: Mark Douet



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From This Author Emma Cann