When drawing a connection between the word “gangsta” and a text created by the multifaceted English comedian and author David Walliams, one cannot help but hear the dreaded phrase “down with the kids“. But like its source material, Birmingham Stage Company’s touring adaptation of Gangsta Granny avoids the typical BBC school route and instead delivers classic British farce.
When young Ben realises that once more he is spending Friday night with his granny, the fears of cabbage cake creep in once more. But nothing implies street cred like jewel theft, so upon discovering that her grandson finds her company boring, Granny allows her secret to unfold – a history as an international jewel thief. Finding little attention from his parents, Ben grows closer to his grandmother. And what do all children do with an elderly relative? Steal the Crown Jewels of course.
There’s a great deal of the mighty Dahl in Walliams’ text – the misguided youth who displays a refreshing amount of lifelike greed, the elder character who has that effervescent whimsy. Ashley Cousins as Ben harkens back to Dahl’s child characters, though our real focus comes from the battle-weary heart of Gilly Tompkins as Granny. There’s a twisted warmth, delicate but sprightly, rewarding investment from the audience.
The thought process of designer Jacqueline Trousdale has led to extravagance. Costumes have been created which need not have been. Elephants, bears and a competitor to Bertie Bassett storm our
nightmares imagination. An unfolding, gliding set is used, offering a free flowing feel to the show which further helps maintain the attention of a theatre full of the foulest critics, children.
Aside from the pungent issue of Granny’s flatulence, this Gangsta has one main issue – pacing – as scenes which feature extended choreography outstay their welcome. Only so many times can the altered, royalty free Strictly theme drill into one’s head before you pray for dancing transitions to end. They do serve as a fine solution to the stagehand issue. As an adult, we become trained in theatreland that anyone in black is invisible. Children (surprisingly) don’t always grasp this, so the bright lights and dancing characters make the transition part of the production.
Gangsta Granny’s core message throughout is something to dwell on, more so now than ever. In a country dividing itself, the generational gap is widening. We’re finding ourselves with the youth often at complete disagreement with the elderly. They are no longer simply “boring”. For the adults that monstrosity, entitled guilt, rears in the final act, for good reason. For the young, it does what children’s theatre does best; offer a glimpse of a valuable lesson wrapped in ridiculousness and glitter.