Touring – reviewed at Orchard Theatre, Dartford
Guest reviewer: Debika Cutts
To any parent, the much-loved and critically acclaimed Gangsta Granny by actor, presenter, comedian and author David Walliams needs no introduction. Released in 2011, it immediately went to number one in the children’s book chart, and this touring show, produced by the brilliant Birmingham Production Company – of Horrible Histories fame – is a very welcome addition to the selection of family shows offered at the Orchard Theatre, Dartford. It is the production’s second visit here.
Eleven-year-old Ben, played by the wonderful Tom Cawte, is neglected by his parents while they pursue their love of ballroom dancing, and just dreams of becoming a plumber – something his parents don’t understand or have time for. Meanwhile, his lonely old granny, played exactly as I imagined by Louise Bailey, seems to Ben to be boring, smelly and full of farts after eating nothing but cabbage – cabbage soup, cabbage cake, cabbage stew and even cabbage ice cream! But as it turns out she has a big secret – she is a gangsta, or should I say “gransta”. As two outsiders who have both been abandoned, Ben and his gran form a partnership, joining forces on a great heist that leads them to stealing the Crown Jewels from the Tower of London and even meeting the (yes, farting) queen.
I was lucky enough to be reviewing this with my seven-year-old son, who giggled away beside me throughout the entire fun-packed production. Always a good sign when they think it is as good as the book. His review – 9½ out of 10 because “it has all the best bits” and “the characters are exactly as I had imagined in my head”. It would have been 10 but the dancers moving the stage scenery as part of the show wasn’t for him. Behind me was a grandfather laughing even more loudly. This is a show that appeals to both the young and old.
And what makes this production so appealing to all ages? The bond formed between the old and young, due to Ben’s neglect and Granny’s loneliness because of her age, strikes a chord in the audience. And the message about not ignoring the elderly is a strong one. My son, in the interval, voluntary said of his grandparents, “yes, I want to hear about their adventures, I don’t know why I haven’t before”. I have no doubt that his next conversation with them will be a richer one thanks to this viewing. It is a reminder to us all.
The show is at times full of hilarity, with its toilet humour (who doesn’t like a good fart joke?) and peppered with Strictly Come Dancing parodies that fans of the show definitely enjoyed. Much fun was had by kids and grownups alike whilst judging the Strictly competition – loud boos and cheers resounded in the theatre. The show makes a joke out of our obsession with celebrity culture as it follows Ben’s mum’s adoration of the ageing dancing sensation Flavio.
There were a few local references – “I love you more than Gravy’s End” aka Gravesend – was appreciated by the local audience. Other parts of the show were deeply touching; quotes such as “I am proud whatever you do”, “Follow your dreams”, “I am useless” and the heartfelt “I love you Granny” pulled on some heartstrings.
The entire cast are superb with a host of excellent performances, but the part I had been especially looking forward to is that of 16-year-old local dancer from Bexleyheath, Millie Minkowich. I had read in the local press that there had been a search for a local female dancer to play the part of a Strictly contestant and Millie was the talented winner. She was excellent and showcased her talent admirably. I have realised that this production often does this throughout their tour – what a nice support of the local community!
David Walliams, our much loved TV funnyman, has teamed up with the Birmingham Stage Company to create a fun-packed yet thought-provoking show for all the family, from young to old. Other than enjoying the laughter I think both of us came away thinking we will be kinder to our parents/grandparents, and I have vowed to make more time for my children!
Highly recommend by myself and my 7-year-old son!