Having been touring the country, David Walliam's hit children's book, Gangsta Granny, has been adapted for the stage, and is taking audiences of all ages by storm. Following the story of Ben, who visits his Granny every week, finding her excruciatingly boring, he soon discovers that there may be some secrets worth finding out about.
My full review can be read here:
Jacqueline Trousdale is the brains behind the awesome designs seen through the set and costumes in the production. I immediately knew after seeing Gangsta Granny that it would be wonderful to here from Jackie about her work that plays such an integral role in making the show.
Please may you talk a little about your role, and the process of designing the set and costumes for Gangsta Granny?
I am set and costume designer for The Birmingham Stage Company although I am a freelance designer and have worked for several other theatre companies. It was exciting to design this production, the first major adaptation of one of David Walliams books, Gangsta Granny is a story with great heart and my personal favourite book of his.
I always feel that the best children’s stories are the ones where it is almost possible to imagine it happening. I felt this with George's Marvellous Medicine. Of course, Roald Dahl has written many amazing books, however kids love making potions and you could almost imagine making a potion with magical powers. So with Gangsta Granny you could almost imagine stealing the Crown Jewels, after all, it has happened before, and possible that your granny was a jewel thief or that she found jewels in a charity shop worth millions! That is why these stories appeal to me.
The costumes were a mixture of modern and fantasy, expecially with all the costumes mum has created for the dance competition, accurate to a degree with the Beefeaters and the Russian Guards, and having two boys myself was helpful in costuming Ben. The strictly costumes were also fun.
Granny was firmly based on images of my mum and every time I drew her, I was drawing my mum! Her ‘stage house' was definitely my mum’s and when she died in 2018, I added some of her appropriate knick knacks to the shelves in Granny’s house- she would have loved seeing them there. Fortunately, she saw the show and loved it.
The process is always to draw on what you know and research any costumes you need to get right. Explore the characters fully with discussions with the director (Neal Foster) and also allow the actors some input, especially with modern outfits which they feel suit the way they are interpreting the character. I come with a complete set of costume designs, we have some items made, and for modern buys, we buy many outfits to try on until we find the right one using the designs as a guide.
Have you got a particular costume from the show that stands out to you?
I think I like all the costumes as a group for the dance competition, particularly the Mum character - Jess Nesling.
Were there any notable successes or challenges when costume designing for this show?
All Ben Strickland's outfits, created by [his] mum [in the show], but also needing to be quick change were a challenge and fun.
How did the concept of the ingenious set for Gangsta Granny come about?
I needed to find a way to represent each location as clearly as possible and yet not take up too much space. I felt it needed to be textures of stones, bricks and tiles to reflect the locations. A photographer took a high resolution image for me of the Tower of London wall so I could use it to accurately represent the location. We don't fly scenery in on our shows so it is tricky to find new ways of changing scenes. The design was influenced by an architect who build a cube with each face becoming a bedroom, sitting room, kitchen: from there I could use that idea to create streets and yet open each side to reveal a different scene in the stage right block. Hiding stuff in a shape and making a new shape by pulling something out or opening something has always appealed to me. Raj's shop was the best use of that block, and the bathroom in Granny's house. The central block I knew had to be the Tower and the jewellery shop, the latter which, in the interval, is repositioned. Granny's house had to be special and the most important location in the story.
What considerations did you have to make for the need to move the set between venues on tour?
The elements of the set come apart and travel in sections. Our shows have to make the very best of every inch of space and have to fit into some small venues. I usually start the design using the small venues so that where possible, we don't have too many issues. The show has a limit on lorry space so the set has to pack down as small as possible.
The restrictions are both challenging and interesting forcing you to design shows without necessarily resorting to the usual theatrical devices.
How has working on Gangsta Granny expanded your skill set?
This was the first show I used CAD 3D software in the design process so that really expanded my knowledge and skills. Trying to create so many scenes for a touring show which also had the Tower of London in it and 'no flying' [set on stage] due to some of the venues we were visiting was quite a challenge.
Can you talk a little about your journey into the industry, and how your passion for set and costume design formed?
I am a Fine Artist graduating from Reading university. I began painting sets and moved into design when I thought I would prefer to work at the front end of the process. Costume was always difficult to start with for me, but I guess eventually I realised I could use my skills from life drawing and knowledge of paintings and art to inform my design. I often draw upon artists and architects for inspiration and particularly paintings for period costumes.
What advice would you give to someone who would like to take on a role like yours in the future?
Be committed, believe you can do it and never be afraid to fail or put yourself on the line. Learn as much as you can from other designers and be willing to do anything in the theatre world just to be around the theatre makers. It is all about getting on with people and using the skills you have to help others before you will then eventually be offered that special opportunity…and take it, no matter how small the production.
Who would you most like to design a costume for (dead or alive)?
A tricky one, I think I would like to design a costume for Emma Thompson.
And lastly, who inspires you, and why? I think I am inspired by the set designer Bunny Christie, her designs are amazing, always playful and inventive. I also love the costume designs of Sandy Powell.
Mainly I am inspired for my own work by modern art and architects, work which explores unusual textures, spaces and colour combinations. I love Cornelia Parker’s work which inspired my design for Skellig by David Almond. Art is definitely the starting point for all my designs and architect’s use of light and materials.
Huge thanks to Jackie for her contributions to this- it is a delight to have been able to find out more about your incredible work on this show and beyond. Best of luck for future roles too!
Some other interviews with cast members in Gangsta Granny- Isabel Ford (Granny) and Jess Nesling (Mum)- can be found here: