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Gangsta Granny - Theatre Royal Nottingham Review

David Walliams has enjoyed huge success with his novels and they have been adapted for the screen on the BBC, a smash-hit Royal Shakespeare Company musical, and now Birmingham Stage Company have adapted Gangsta Granny for the stage. The touring production is at Theatre Royal in Nottingham this week.

The stage adaptation by Neal Foster, who also directs, is full of the cartoonish humour that fills the original novel. That humour landed for the younger member of the audience but for me, the whole production felt a bit flat and overplayed. Maybe now I'm older but I found myself groaning at the repeated use of fart jokes. 

Photo by Mark Douet

The novel tells of 11-year-old Ben who every Friday night goes to stay with his Granny. Only Ben is fed up with these visits as he finds his Granny to be boring. After Granny overhears Ben saying this to his parents on the phone she begins to tell Ben tales of times she was a jewel thief. Ben instantly becomes more interested and together Ben and Granny devise a plot to steal the Crown Jewels from the Tower of London.

The subplot of the piece is that Ben's parents long for Ben to be a champion Ballroom dancer, whereas Ben would rather be a plumber. Once Ben is entered into an under 12's competition his parents think their dreams will come true but ultimately Ben, who hasn't rehearsed, gets zero scores from the judges but he still wins as there is nobody else entered in his category!

For what it's worth the company has done an impressive job with condensing the novel down for the stage, but if anything there were moments that have could have been condensed further. There are numerous little dance sequences between scene changes in the first act that just feel unnecessary. Ben's parent's become slightly irritating with their constant dancing around and it doesn't quicken the plot and the dance competition seems to go on too long rather than progressing any of the story - although there are some fun moments of audience interaction here.

Photo by Mark Douet

The highlight of the production is the excellent staging designed by Jackie Trousdale. There are 3 large pieces of scenery that rotate and open to allow for different settings. It's really quite impressive how much there is stored in each piece and how effective it is for the play. Jason Taylor's lighting also helps create the world, especially in the second act as Ben and Granny go on their big Crown Jewel heist.

Justin Davies is impressive as Ben. He does a fine job of conveying all the different emotions throughout the production. Isabel Ford also impresses as Granny, she becomes more energised as her wild stories unfold and the relationship flourishes between Granny and Ben. Irfan Damani is central to the comedy as Raj the shopkeeper and also as Flavio the dancer.

The show is perfect for a younger audience but for me, it needed cutting further and shortening more There's plenty to enjoy and like about the piece but I left feeling like Ben does in his early visits to his Granny, I wanted so much more. 

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐

Gangsta Granny continues at Theatre Royal in Nottingham until Sunday 13th March, the production is touring thereafter. Visit to book tickets.

Photo by Mark Douet

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