Adapting Gangsta Granny: An interview with director Neal Foster

1st July, 2017

We caught up with Gangsta Granny director Neal Foster, to find out why he was inspired to adapt David Walliams’ story and also what the most surprising thing a granny has ever said to him.

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!”

Gangsta Granny is playing at the Garrick Theatre until 3 September 2017