Gangsta Granny review: closing night of the West End run

The stage adaptation of David Walliams’ Gangsta Granny was, in the scheme of West End productions, a fairly modest affair. It played at the Harold Pinter Theatre for two weeks, and I caught the closing night on Saturday, and when we took our seats, we were greeted with a good, modest set, and a sense that a good number of people in the auditorium – given the books they were clutching – were familiar with the story.

I wasn’t, although have enjoyed Walliams’ writing, and I found myself really taken by the narrative.

It tells the story of a young boy called Ben, who is forced to spend every Friday night at his Granny’s house, whilst his parents go off ballroom dancing. Ben finds his Granny boring, dislikes the many variants of cabbage she serves up in her cooking, and can’t wait to get away. Until he gradually discovers one or two things about her – I’m not spoiling anything here, it’s in the title – that leads him to think that his Gran might actually be more interesting than he gives her credit for.

This particular production originated at The Birmingham Stage Company, and so its native home is not the West End of London. But it certainly warrants its place. I found the first half genial and engaging, buoyed by some excellent performances (I don’t really want to quote names as I believe understudies were covering some of the roles, and I didn’t catch who was who. I’ll still have a go in a minute, though), and lively musical moments. Tellingly, my young companions barely fidgeted in the first half of the production, and didn’t try and sneak a sweet when I wasn’t looking.

In particular, I warmed to the quiet moments between Ben (who was definitely played by Tom Cawte) and Granny (who was either played by Lauren Taylor or Louise Bailey), and it’s their core relationship that really, really powers the second half of the production too. The second half sees the ambition of the staging ramp up, in line with where the story takes the production, and it also notably ups the quotient of wind jokes. These wind jokes, I have to tell you, were thoroughly enjoyed by those aforementioned young companions. As was Raj trying to sell us dodgy ice creams in the interview.

But then the whole show was really good. It’s clearly skillfully adapted and directed by Neal Foster, and he has fine form in bringing the work of Walliams to the stage. You’ll certainly have found louder, more dramatic and more demonstrative productions on the stage of the West End last weekend – and it’s a shame the ticket price of this one was still quite high – but few that get to the heart as well, in such a universal, family-friendly way.

I liked Gangsta Granny, and at times, I liked it a lot. I always greatly appreciated the story it told, and the way it talks to a young audience – in a very witty way – about serious matters. The show’s current tour has now come to a close, but I hope that a fresh trip around the country isn’t too far off. Recommended, whether Walliams devotee or not.