Theatre Royal, Brighton
It’s almost a decade since best-selling children’s author David Walliams wrote his most popular children’s book Gangsta Granny and this is a delightful live stage production drawn from the book.
Every Friday night Ben knows that means only 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! But what Ben 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!
From the opening moments of this high energy, high camp show you know you’re in safe hands, with this fully engaged cast giving it their all. Gangsta Granny follows the story of Ben (Justin Davies) as he finds the joy hidden in plain sight in his life and appreciates not only the people around him but learns to value his own feelings and ideas. It’s lovely piece of theatre, written with great style and stuffed full of some of the worst and best puns I’ve heard in ages, this is theatre as riotous fun and although aimed at a younger audience it has plenty to appeal to an adult.
I went along with an open mind and was delighted by this production, my companion and I laughed a huge amount and it even made us cry, and for me that’s the mark of a good show, one you trust enough to let the tears spill out and down your cheeks knowing there’s more laughter to come.
Isabel Ford as Granny is superb, brimming with physical comedy which brings her to full life, we feel for her, we feel with her and as we follow her adventures we understand the lessons she shares from her life. It’s the laughter that’s done so well here with a real light touch, a glint, a tug of the cardigan, a look, a fart, a shrug, each one bringing peals of laughter from the audience who adored her. Her ‘boring life’ gentle and full of love for her grandchild Ben is contrasted with the parental home, slightly manic but gently daft obsessive ballroom dancing parents, played with effervescent energy by Jess Nesling and Jason Furnival who only want their son to become an international dancer, although he dreams of being a plumber. They whirl, swirl and twirl in a never ending glitzy wanna-be pairing of ballroom desire.
The rotating interlocked slide in-and-out set is a delight, crafted with a few fun touches by Jackie Trousdale, it takes us in and out of Ben’s world with a turn, change of light and some textured walls. It works well and I enjoyed watching it unfold and share it’s secrets with us. Each change of set is accompanied by some rather splendid short dance numbers which work to move the action on, set the next stage of the narrative and entertain as the space is changed. The continiuos daft ballroom dancing is infections and I left wanting a Foxtrot frock…
After the family set up of the first half of the show we get an opening audience participation Strictly Ballroom type second half which is seriously silly and then we move on to Ben’s great adventure, where he and Gangsta Granny raid the Tower of London to steal the Crown Jewels. It’s a fun set up, done in the style of glorious panto and the journey getting to the Tower is a wonderful piece of physical theatre building to a crescendo.
But it’s not all laughter in this family friendly show, we get the poignant and truly sad moments of Granny being honest about not lasting for ever and it was here a lot of people in the audience teared up; we’ve all lost our favourite granny, and facing her final curtain with such charming aplomb and a cheery wave was a wonderful way to go, leaving us sad but smiling.
Life goes on of course, and a new life ends this show, where the family and Ben appreciate each other for the authentic people they are. It’s life affirming, empowering and wonderfully daft.
I particularly enjoyed the rather good regional accents on display from the cast this evening, nailing the Welsh Valleys ones, but all played with charm by this tight and strongly directed ensemble.
Well worth a trip out to the glorious Theatre Royal to see this, it felt like a cheeky panto session rather earlier than expected, and I left thoughtful of the younger audience members who might look at the older relations in a slightly more appreciative way and those of us with older parents who might make a tiny bit more effort.
What’s not to like about a fun, silly, life affirming show like this with a strong moral message about appreciating our older relatives before they’re gone, sharing our wild and wonderful stories from life all mixed up with some hearty farts!
Until Sat 13th November @ Theatre Royal, Brighton