David Walliams popular children’s book Gangsta Granny is being brought to life by Birmingham Stage Company and will come to Sunderland Empire in May – and it’s a must-see family show. Here’s the man himself chatting about his book.
What inspired Gangsta Granny?
When I was a child I would spend lots of time with my grandmas. Sometimes I would selfishly think spending time with them could be boring, but when I got them on a subject like living in London during World War II when bombs were raining down, they would become very animated and I would be enthralled. I realised everyone has a story to tell.
What were your grannies like and are there any elements of their characters in Gangsta Granny?
There was definitely a smell of cabbages in one of my grandmas' houses. The other did break wind like a duck quacking when she walked across the room.
Many people would say there’s a special bond between children and their grandparents. Why do you think that is?
I think grandparents love being grandparents because they get to give the children back to the parents! Children love spending time with their grandparents because they love hearing their stories and being allowed to stay up past their bedtime.
When did you decide to write children’s fiction and what encouraged you?
Ten years ago I had an idea for a story: what if a boy went to school dressed as a girl? I thought it would be a thought-provoking children's book. That became The Boy in the Dress, my first of eight children's novels.
What are the delights of writing children’s fiction?
The only limitation in a children's book is your imagination. You can take children on magical journeys in books that many adults would be reluctant to go on.
And the challenges of writing for children?
Children love to be scared but it can't be too horrifying. Children love to laugh but it can't be too rude. You always have to be the right side of the line.
You’ve often talked about Roald Dahl. What do you think makes him special?
I think Dahl's books always feel a little bit forbidden. He manages to balance the humour and scary elements in his stories perfectly.
Which Dahl books do you particularly like and why?
The Twits is utterly hilarious and I love that it is a children's book with no child characters.
Which other children’s writers did you enjoy as a child and why?
I loved Dr Seuss books as a child, especially Green Eggs and Ham. His books are like nightmares come to life. They are rich and strange and utterly unlike anybody else's work.
What do you think children enjoy in your books?
I imagine they like the humour and that I don't patronise them. I deal with quite big topics: cross-dressing, homelessness, grief. I know children are a lot smarter than most grown-ups think.
What are your feelings on seeing Gangsta Granny adapted for the stage?
It's a huge thrill seeing Gangsta Granny have this whole new life on the stage. It has already been a TV film. People seem to really like the story. In fact, Gangsta Granny is my best-selling book by far. And having seen the first night at Birmingham last December I think it’s a brilliant show – better than the book.
Do you feel there are any particular challenges or difficulties with staging Gangsta Granny?
There is lots of action in Gangsta Granny, especially when they try to steal the Crown Jewels – quite a challenge for Birmingham Stage Company to bring those scenes to life but they do it so well.
Are there any scenes you particularly looked forward to seeing on stage?
I like the characters of Ben's mum and dad. Their obsession with ballroom dancing is very funny brought to life in the play.
Why were you keen to work with Birmingham Stage Company on the adaptation?
I saw their Horrible Histories show which was superb. I loved the humour and the interaction with the audience so look forward to seeing more of that.
What do you hope children will take away from watching Gangsta Granny on stage?
The moral of the story is ‘don't assume old people are boring just because they are old’. In fact they are likely to have had a much more interesting life than yours. Talk to old folk, listen to their stories. They are bound to be full of magic and wonder.
In what way do you think experiencing the stage show will differ from their experiences when reading the book?
The great thing about seeing Gangsta Granny on stage is you will get to share it with an audience. So hopefully you will laugh and cry along with everyone else. That's what makes theatre so special.
What do you think are the elements that make up a good theatrical production for children?
Those for children need to be fun and fast-paced which Gangsta Granny certainly is.
Strictly Come Dancing raises its head in Gangsta Granny – would you like to be in the show and, if so, how do you rate your hopes of holding the glitter ball?
I can't dance at all (as you might have seen in the TV adaptation of Gangsta Granny when I tried to dance with Miranda Hart). So I would say my chances are less than zero!
Catch Birmingham Stage Company’s world premiere of David Walliams’ Gangsta Granny at Sunderland Empire from 10–14 May. For more information or to book tickets visit www.ATGtickets.com/Sunderland