A decade after the first edition of David Walliams' hit book was released, and following the success of its film too, Gangsta Granny is now taking to the road, and touring the UK. This fabulously flamboyant show is packed full of fun, and is a joyous watch, particularly for children. Ben hates visiting his granny. Soon after he discovers that she may be more exciting than he first thought, his Friday night trips become a bit more intriguing...
You can read my full review of the piece here:
Jess Nesling does a wonderful job at playing the dance-enthused mother, and also makes a regal appearance as the Queen later on. I really wanted to know more about this show, as it is evident that there are so many layers that have gone into creating it, despite its initial purpose to entertain children, so thought Jess could perhaps tell us a little about that. Here is what she told me.
Why do you think people should come to watch Gangsta Granny?
Gangsta Granny is a delightfully silly show with a lot of heart. It’s got everything from dancing cabbages to awful puns; amazing adventures to an impressive number of fart jokes. I love that we can hear the adults laughing along with the children.
But at the centre is a gorgeous message which is a pleasure to share with our audiences.
I agree- that totally sums it up!
In line with Walliams' style, both the other mediums use exaggerated characters with strong personalities to bring them to life in a humorous way.
Has the book or film influenced your impression of your character?
I loved the book but confess I haven’t seen the film yet. Neal Foster, our director, wrote the script and has been faithful to Walliams’ original story. Mum is a flawed woman with a ridiculous passion for dance and all things celebrity. I think we’ve stayed true to her blinkered, pushy ways but I’ve enjoyed putting my own Welshie spin on things, being influenced by interesting and funny people I’ve come across growing up. She’s not a nasty person, just incredibly self-obsessed, but she finally has her eyes opened thanks to Ben and Granny’s adventures.
There are lots of colourful and creative costumes used in the show, that truly become a highlight of the piece as a whole. The set too is highly commendable and wonderfully surprising, adding a whole new dynamic to the staging.
Do you have a particular favourite costume of yours or another character in the show?
There are so many bright and bonkers costumes in this show, it’s impossible to choose! I adore the elephants and the outfits our designer, Jackie Trousdale, created for Ben’s dance competition costume parade. ‘Hedgerow & Badger’ always makes me giggle.
What is it like to coordinate such a clever set, that frequently changes?
Isn’t it a brilliant set? Jackie is a genius. It was a bit odd in rehearsals as we didn’t have the set, just markers on the floor. So when we finally met the beastie at our first venue, The Alhambra in Bradford, it was so much fun. We all felt like children, playing around, pulling things out, seeing how it all transformed into different spaces. Moving things around whilst doing choreography - especially pulling out the sofa - was a challenge at first, but now it’s become second nature.
Which part of the show gives the cast the most laughs?
Granny & Ben’s first trip on the mobility scooter makes us smile and I think it always will. Without giving too much away, the scene with Granny, Ben, the police and Mr Parker never fails to make us laugh!
It looks as if you all have so much fun on stage!
What’s your dream role?
One of the things I adore about this industry is how you never know what job is coming next. I do love Noel Coward’s plays and think Amanda in Private Lives would be great fun. I’d also love to voice a lead role in an animated film (hint hint, Pixar!).
That would be fantastic! I'd definitely give you the job if it were up to me. Hopefully in the future, it'll be something we can all look forward to.
What made you choose the arts industry, and what would you be doing instead, if not acting?
I haven’t always wanted to perform; I was a shy child which surprises a lot of people! Watching the cast of Ice Age behind the scenes having fun in the recording booth sparked something in me. Probably not the answer you’d expect but they were having so much fun and it looked so fabulous and silly that I immediately thought ‘THAT is what I want to do’. That’s what got me into acting!
At the same time that I was applying for drama school I was also applying to study a Masters in Medieval French. Who knows where I’d be now if I hadn’t got in?!
That's so interesting to find out: a great origin story for your current career, and intriguing potential alternative...!
Who inspires you, and why?
The 'Smack the Pony' women had a huge influence on my sense of humour and my love of comedy when I was younger, particularly Sally Phillips and Doon Mackichan. If I ever got the chance to work with them I think I’d melt!
Michaela Coel is such a fearless genius - I don’t quite understand how one human can be filled with so much talent.
I did a workshop with Hannah Waddingham years ago and thought she was just incredible. I’ve seen her perform on stage a few times and she’s such an intelligent, versatile actress with funny bones - I’d love to emulate her career. I’m thrilled the world is seeing how brilliant she is in Ted Lasso, she truly deserves every ounce of success.
Some very good choices of inspiration there.
Big thank you to Jess for being so lovely and providing some excellent answers, becoming my first interview of 2022! Best wishes for everything to come, and hope the rest of the tour goes well too, bringing happiness to many more families.
You only have a week left to catch Gangsta Granny in London, but it may be coming to another theatre near you, so worth checking if you'd like a good laugh (and I think we all do!).