Gangsta Granny

Wyvern Theatre, Swindon

Until Saturday

ALL the best comedy has a certain poignancy, and in the stage adaptation of David Walliams’ award-winning children’s book Gangsta Granny, the heart-wrenching moments come as fast as the belly laughs.

The tale of a young boy who discovers his ‘boring’ granny is actually a master jewel thief manages to elicit tears for all the right reasons - from the slapstick moments (mostly noisy flatulence) to the moving scene where the two say their last goodbyes.

If there is any better way of teaching children (and their guilt-ridden parents) not to write off their elderly relatives, I’d like to see it. I bet grannies and grandads across Swindon will be getting impromptu visits left, right and centre this week, while the show plays out its run at the Wyvern.

Ben - ‘little Benny’ to his grandma - dreads Friday nights, when his parents head off to their ballroom dancing class leaving him for a sleepover at granny’s house. Endless games of Scrabble and a diet of cabbage soup, cabbage stew and cabbage cake lead Ben to believe his granny is the most boring person he’s ever met... until he accidentally finds a biscuit tin full of jewels and gems and discovers she has a secret life as The Black Cat, stealing from the rich and famous.

Between them, Ben and his gangster granny plot the ultimate heist - robbing the Tower of London of the Crown Jewels - until they are discovered by the Queen, no less, who lets them off with a pardon before sampling some of granny’s cabbage soup (which has the inevitable effect... cue guffaws).

Ashley Cousins is fantastic as Ben, with all the enthusiasm and awkwardness of an 11-year-old coming across despite him being eight years older in reality.

Gilly Tompkins is also superb as Granny, this time a 50-something actress playing a woman in her 80s, with all the stoop and slow stagger that requires.

Their relationship develops into something very touching indeed, and by the time Granny’s days are at an end we are tearfully reminded of the need for staying in touch with those older and wiser than us.

Quite how much of that message got through the laughs to the young audience remains to be seen.

On the way home, I asked my young niece whether she’d still come to see me when I’m old and grey and boring.

‘Nope,’ she said, without a moment’s hesitation. That’s the last time I take her to the theatre.