David Walliams is the current undisputed king of children’s books and, with over 25 million books sold, it is no surprise that his juvenile humour and easy to read stories are such a hit with so many children. His highest selling book, Gangsta Granny, has returned to Manchester at the Opera House for a short run as a play in this production from the Birmingham Stage Company.
The central character, Ben, is an 11 year-old boy who gets carted off to his grandmother’s house every Friday without fail so that his parents can go ballroom dancing. The problem is he finds it so boring and he’d much rather read his Plumbing Weekly magazines. Each week he has to endure all manner of cabbage inspired food and put up with the resultant flatulence from his Nan.
Things change when Ben follows the old lady one evening to discover her trying to steal some jewelry. Once he realizes he has a gangster for a granny, he is eager to spend more time with her, and join her in a heist.
Justin Davies gives an enthusiastic, energetic and very likeable performance as Ben, juggling the growing pains of being a good kid, trying to please his family but struggling to keep himself happy in the process. His doddery Granny is brought to life by Isabel Ford, speeding about on her mobility scooter and brilliantly acting out her greatest robberies.
The dancing parents are played by the bubbly Jess Nesling as Mum and Jason Furnival as Dad. Furnival also doubles as the Brummie busybody Mr Parker and revels in the role.
As is Walliams’ style, he is never one to stray too far from a stereotype and Irfan Damani plays Raj who fits the bill as the newsagent who sells out of date ice-creams. Damani deservedly gets many more laughs though as Strictly dancing star, Flavio who compares a dance competition.
Every last laugh is wrung out by the supporting cast and Paul Duckworth and Jemma Geanaus give bright performances and make the most of their limited time on stage.
The set has been brilliantly designed to fit the many different locations and props into it and the quick changes with the fitting soundtrack keep the action flowing. The pace is maintained throughout by Director Neal Foster who also adapted the book for the stage.
For all of the fart jokes, the friendship and love between Ben and his family result in a touching second act which left many in the audience in tears. There were plenty of giggles and dancing from the children in the auditorium who clearly loved the show. I won’t have been the only parent to have their child hand them the Billionaire Boy flyer on the way out, eager to see another of Walliams’ books brought to the stage when the company arrives at the Palace Theatre in March.