REVIEW: Grandma Saves The Day, New Wolsey Theatre ✭✭

Paul T Davies reviews Grandma Saves The Day based on the cartoon strip characters created by Ronald Giles now playing at the New Wolsey Theatre.

Grandma Saves The Day
The cast of Grandma Saves The Day. Photo: Robert Day

Grandma Saves the Day!
New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich.
1 May 2019
2 Stars
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For their latest Rock N Roll Panto, the New Wolsey Theatre offer us this musical, featuring the Giles family, stars of the hugely popular cartoon strip by Ronald Giles. His cartoon family made their debut in the Daily Express in 1945, and continued in the Sunday Express until 1991. A long time resident in Witnesham, near Ipswich, Giles in honoured with a statue of Grandma Giles taking her place in the town centre.  It’s not officially their Rock N Roll Panto, but it evolves from their fine tradition of actor/musician productions, notably in the festive season. This tradition has also produced some excellent  productions such as Once and Made in Dagenham, but here the concept falls flat mainly due to a crude, clumsy script by Phil Wilmott, that fails to give the show much coherence.

The Giles family move into a council house in Ipswich in 1987 next the snobbish, upwardly mobile Stinkleton family.  A story of star crossed lovers, those being young Bridget Giles and Larry Stinkleton, and left and right wing politics are employed, but from the start it feels as if the set list was decided first, and the script was bolted together around them- and you see them coming from a mile off. Mrs. Stinkleton is called Eileen, so you swiftly know Come On Eileen is going to be sung by her horny husband, and daughter Carol fancies a guy in the chip shop, you just know he thinks he’s Elvis. Grandma Giles, in the cartoon, is silent, but here she is given one word- Gertcha- which signals the Chas N Dave song. Yes, it’s as unsubtle as that.

There are positives, namely Cleo Pettit’s superb set and costume design, delightfully capturing the cartoon script look throughout, and making the Giles family instantly recognisable to those who know them, and the cast are great, working their socks off. In particular, Guy Freeman is hilarious as love struck Larry, matched with Grace Lancaster’s brilliant Bridget, Steve Simmonds delighting the audience as Grandma, and Ben Goffe gyrating superbly as Eric Giles. The socialist in me approved highly of the political stance the musical takes, but equally I will never be able to accept Thatcher singing Killer Queen and One Way or Another, no matter how well Alice Keedwell performs it.

The jokes come from the 1970s and 80s and belong firmly in the Carry On genre. Nothing wrong with that, but almost forty years ago Spitting Image was doing this kind of material with much more of a satirical edge, and this show is about as subtle as a drunken Ipswich reveller clamouring over the  Grandma statue in Ipswich town centre on a Saturday night. However, the new Wolsey know their audience well. This show will mean little, if anything, to anyone under the age of forty, and it helps if you are an Ipswich resident as the jokes are very local, (another pantomime trope), and that you know the work of Giles, which was sharply satirical in commenting on world events through one cartoon family.  The audience who fitted those targets had a great night, and there is no doubt this is an audience pleasing show.

Until 18 May

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