Prior to their visit in September, we sat down with Adapator / Director Neal Foster from the Birmingham Stage Company to chat about the process of adapting ‘Gangsta Granny’ for the stage and what it was like to have David Walliams watch the show!
Hi Neal, thank you so much for your time. First of all, what is the process involved in adapting a book for the stage?
Adapting a book for the stage is always a daunting prospect, particularly when it has been written by the UK’s most successful children’s author and especially when it’s the first time you’ve created an adaptation! Fortunately David Walliams had seen my production of Horrible Histories – Barmy Britain so he was willing to trust me with his best-selling book Gangsta Granny. When I first started writing I realised I was being too faithful – a stage production needs to harness as much potential drama as you can get out of the novel and so I pushed myself to play with David’s ideas. The wonderful thing about adapting a contemporary novel is that you can ask the author what he or she thinks and David’s notes were invaluable. In the end it only took two drafts to reach the point where we could take the script forward into the production process.
That sounds fantastic! What’s the next step after drafting the script?
The next step was to create the design and look of the show. Our designer Jackie Trousdale asked me what I felt the play was about and I summed it up by saying “It’s a play in which things are not what they seem”. This was enough for Jackie to create a wonderfully creative set where beds come out of walls, bathrooms appear from nowhere and walls turn seamlessly into a newsagent’s shop and the Tower of London! It was joyous to hear gasps from the audience when the character of Ben first revealed his bed.
Could you tell us a bit more about the Birmingham Stage Company…
We have been producing shows for children and their families for twenty-four years and use the same designers for our children’s shows as we do with our adult drama. We know that children are hugely sophisticated and we will never cease to underestimate them. So I also needed actors who would play the truth of the David’s funny and very moving story without playing down in any way.
Walk us through the characters for Gangsta Granny. Who is playing who?
We were amazingly lucky to secure Ashley Cousins for the main part of Ben. Ashley is just eighteen years old but had already performed for three years in Billy Elliot in the West End. We then struck gold with Gilly Tompkins for the role of Grandma. Gilly had never performed in a children’s show before and couldn’t believe the wave of love and affection she received from the audience. Supporting the two leads are some of the best actors we’ve ever had with the company including Birmingham Stage Company regulars Benedict Martin and Alison Fitzjohn.
How did you feel when David Walliams first saw the show?
I don’t think I’ve ever been quite as nervous as when David saw the show for the first time. A packed audience at the Birmingham Alexandra greeted his arrival with huge excitement and at the end of the show he bounded onto the stage to congratulate the cast. “It’s better than the book” he announced to the audience and together we celebrated this special performance.
Thank you so much for your time Neal, we are really excited that Gangsta Granny is coming to Swindon.
We’re hugely delighted that the show is attracting so many new people into the theatre and we hope you’ll enjoy it when it comes to Swindon.
Gangtsa Granny is at the Wyvern Theatre from Tue 27 Sep till Sat 1 Oct.
For more information and tickets please visit: http://bit.ly/GangstaGranny_Swindon
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