REVIEW: GANGSTA GRANNY (Sunderland Empire) ★★★★★

Gangsta Granny Sunderland Empire

David Walliams’ best selling children’s book has been brought to life on stage by The Birmingham Stage Company. The story is told through the eyes of 11 year old Ben (Ashley Cousins) who every Friday night is sent to his ‘boring’ granny’s house (Gilly Tompkins) for the night while his selfish parents go ballroom dancing. He is subjected to playing scrabble and eating cabbage soup, cabbage cake and everything cabbage, including old granny suffering the effects of too much cabbage, much to the delights of all the children in the audience.

But after a discovery in the biscuit tin he realises there may be a lot more to his boring, cardigan-wearing granny. She is in fact an international jewel thief – The Black Cat – suddenly Granny is no longer seen as the stereotype. Together Ben and Granny go on a journey across London to steal the Crown Jewels. A plan made up of Ben’s knowledge of the London sewers and Granny wanting a final buzz.

On their way to the Tower of London they encounter the police, and they are caught in the act by the Queen who understands that children sometimes find their grandparents boring even when their granny is the Queen.

Ben’s parents (Rachel Stanley and Benedict Martin) are obsessed with Strictly and with dancer Fabio (Devesh Kishore) so much so they fail to notice what Ben and Granny are up to. And only the meddling by Mr Parker (Martin again) that almost foils their plans.

Everything about director/adaptor Neal Foster’s approach is fun, colourful sets unfold like picture-book pop-outs, there’s a lot of music and every comic opportunity is grasped (Granny’s slow-moving mobility scooter is hilarious). The production itself is full of stamina and the cast are rarely offstage, doubling as dancing set-changers even when they are not in a scene. All of them display great energy, which never drops.

This play appeals to all ages and is not gender specific. It is relevant to today’s society where old people can be viewed as insignificant, instead the play has a comical way of dealing with this stereotype, turning it completely on its head. The show pulls at the heart strings as young Ben sees Granny with new eyes and their relationship flourishes up until Granny’s last scene in the hospital. Which dealt with the inevitable loss of a beloved grandparent in a way which was easy to understand but still moving. Filled with laughter and farts, it’s funny and poignant and a fabulous night out.

Reviewed by Lindsay Sykes