We chat to comedian Rhys James backstage at Edinburgh Festival Fringe to find out more about his Wiseboy show.
It’s Friday night and Ben knows that means only one thing – staying with Granny! There will be cabbage soup, cabbage pie and cabbage cake to eat and Ben knows one thing for sure – it’s going to be soooooo boring! But what Ben doesn’t know is that Granny has a secret – and Friday nights are about to get more exciting than he could possibly imagine, as he embarks on the adventure of a lifetime with his very own Gangsta Granny!
Based on the 2011 children’s book by author and comedian David Walliams, Gansta Granny arrives at the West End in London towards the end of July. It now celebrates almost two years on the stage, having toured across the UK. Adapted by Neal Foster at the Birmingham Stage Company, we caught up with the director to find out exactly what fans can expect when it opens its doors in England’s capital, and a little more about the inspiration behind the stage production.
What initially drew you to Gangsta Granny?
I am a volunteer for Camden Age UK’s Good Neighbour Scheme which means I visit an elderly lady for an hour each week and David’s story instantly captured the loneliness and heartache of an elderly woman who is losing contact with her family, particularly her grandson, Ben, who has started to get bored of her. So she devises a way to regain her relationship with him, which eventually leads to stealing the crown jewels from the Tower of London! I was amazed that a children’s book was dealing with such an important and relevant issue for our time in such a fun and fantastic way.
Was it easy to adapt the text?
David’s background is in theatre so it’s no surprise to me that he writes his books in a wonderful theatrical way that lend themselves beautifully to adaptations for the stage. Yet this was the first time I had ever adapted a story for the theatre, so I knew I had taken on a challenge. However, in end it took me just two weeks to create the first draft and David only wanted a few changes, so it was a glorious first experience.
How would you describe the Gangsta Granny live adaptation?
One of the themes running through the story is Granny’s daughter-in-law has an obsession with dancing, so I thought it would be fun if this takes over the show. I wrote in my first draft that I would like to set to dance and all the actors to get swept up in this dream of dancing – and to my delight the wonderful designer Jackie Trousdale created a set that is not only full of surprises, just like Granny, but seems to dance around the stage. It’s a wonderful contrast with the ordinary lives everyone is living until Granny and Ben create the plan to steal the crown jewels.
For you, what makes the show so special?
The great thing about the production is that it speaks to all ages, so it’s truly a family show. There’s no doubt that many adults try to hide a tear towards the end as David deals with an important issue, which we then dispel with a hugely rousing fun last scene which has everyone up in their seats dancing. It’s a real rollercoaster of emotions and a wonderful adventure families can all enjoy together.
Has a granny ever surprised you?
The woman I visited was called Rose and she died aged 103. She once said to me “If I was twenty years younger…!” to which I replied “That would make you eighty-three, Rose – I’m still not sure it would work!”
Watch what author David Walliams has to say about Gangsta Granny’s arrival in the West End below:
Gangsta Granny opens at London’s Garrick Theatre on Wednesday 26 July 2017, and runs until the 3 September 2017. Tickets are available now through Ticketmaster.co.uk.