Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, Tuesday 16th February, 2016
Every Friday night while his parents go ballroom dancing, young Ben (Ashley Cousins) has to stay with his granny. He resents this arrangement, finding the old woman boring and smelling of the cabbage that is ubiquitous in her cuisine. In order to keep the boy on side, Granny (a lonely old woman, neglected by her son and his wife) tells Ben exciting stories of her former life as an international jewel thief. Ben is hooked. He plans the biggest heist of the lot (the theft of the crown jewels) as Granny’s comeback and swan song… but has the old girl been telling the truth?
Adapted from David Walliams’s popular children’s novel, this is a cracker of a show, crammed with things to amuse audience members of all ages. There is some delightful comic playing: Ben’s mum and dad (Laura Girling and Benedict Martin) aren’t quite in the Roald Dahl league of monstrous parents, but they flit around, selfish in their sambas, and tyrannical in their tangos. Alison Fitzjohn supports as a range of characters – her assertive Matron gets a lot of laughs – and Richard James’s Teacher and Policemen are also indicative of the versatility of the players. As Strictly-type personality Flavio, Umar Malik almost steals the show, prancing and posturing around. The cast also change the scenery – Jacqueline Trousdale’s ingenious set opens up and turns around to create a wide range of settings – and they dance their way through the transitions, keeping the mood elevated. Jak Poore’s superlative score combines heist movie suspense with ballroom rhythms and flair – irresistible.
But the show is all about the relationship between a boy and his gran. Ashley Cousins is a likeable narrator, bouncing with boyish energy and Gran (played in this performance by Louise Bailey) is full of surprises as much as flatulence, keeping to the right side of grotesque. Beneath the comedy and the adventure runs an undercurrent of loneliness and an admonition to us all to get to know the elderly before it’s too late.
Director and adaptor Neil Foster delivers high quality entertainment for all the family, balancing Walliams’s toilet humour and heart perfectly. Gangsta Granny is a funny, touching and salutary story, performed here with exuberance, great warmth and panache.