GRANDPA IN MY POCKET
Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, Wednesday 19th June, 2013
I have limited knowledge of the television programme. I know James Bolam is in it and that’s about it, but on arrival at the theatre, I found myself surrounded by young aficionados, ardent viewers all, who were able to call out names of characters who had yet to appear on stage. It was a bit like wandering into a meeting of some kind of cult.
To get around the absence of the original actors, the cast announce they are going to pretend to be the characters. They grab bits of costume and props from their dressing-up box and it’s on with the show. It’s a lively, bouncy, colourful affair with jolly, tuneful songs and a likeable cast who keep energy levels high.
Set in the idyllic Sunnysands – a place where everyone is cheerful without being overbearing about it – this is the story of Jason Mason and his grandpa, who possesses a special flat cap that enables him to shrink to pocket size. On the telly, special effects of this kind are a doddle but I was interested to see how they would achieve this change of scale live on stage. The solution is a series of puppets of decreasing size and some clever sleight of hand. This is a production that translates the television show to the stage with no short changes or lazy video tricks. The enthusiastic young audience (and me too) are treated to a purely theatrical experience – how refreshing for those little kids to experience something live and not on screen.
The show uses the conventions of theatre, including some audience involvement (i.e. shouting out) borrowed from pantomime. Things can get pretty loud. Of course, the characters are never going to be in any serious jeopardy and nothing really bad is going to happen. There is an ongoing mystery of valuable objects going missing and half of the cast end up stranded on Bongle Island, but you can bet your life Grandpa is going to save the day.
It’s a thoroughly charming piece, amusing rather than laugh out loud funny. Of the many songs, the one about the Bongle Birds stuck in my mind. The energetic company of six keep things moving, sharing the puppetry and sometimes doubling up their roles. Javan Hughes makes a likeable Jason Mason, with Lizzie Franks as his mum and also his eccentric Great Aunt Loretta, whose culinary inventions could give Heston Blumenthal a run for his menu. Sam Worboys is a rather young Dad, as well as a dotty Mr Mentor the Inventor and cycling enthusiast Mr Liker Biker. Dale Superville is great fun and has great fun as Horatio, a banker who longs to be a pirate. Insert your own satirical comment here. Ebony Feare veers sweetly from young girl as Jason’s sister to grown woman as Miss Smiley. Finally, Robin Simpson plays the man-sized Grandpa and also a toy shop owner with some comic form of dyspraxia the kids all seemed to adore, Mr Whoops.
This cheerful production worked its magic on the kids – it’s a show for them rather than a family audience, but as a so-called grown-up I found much to enjoy in the form of the piece and the exuberance of the performers. Created by Nottingham Playhouse and touring all over the country, this is an excellent summer treat.
Grandpa in My Pocket? I was pleased to see it.