Review – Grow Up Grandad

Grow up Grandad by Gordon Steel – Gallery Players – Sir John Mills Theatre till Saturday

Although under the auspices of Gallery Players this play has very much been Director Steve Wooldridge’s passion – this is the second time he has staged it – and he has been evangelical about it merits. But his faith in both the writing and the performances is thoroughly justified in this superbly staged production of a funny, powerful, emotional play that deserved a far bigger audience than was provided at the Sir John Mills last night.

Written in 2015 and set in Middleborough, the play centres on the relationship between Ken – the archetypal grumpy old man, and his feisty, lippy ‘12 going on 18’ granddaughter Poppy. Ken is a widower, not given much to housework or cooking and certainly not interested in the tech trappings of the modern age. But he muddles along and is happy enough with his lot until his granddaughter is thrust into his life by her mother’s waywardness.

Forced to live together – like a cat and a dog they at first rub each other up the wrong way, but gradually come to terms with each other’s quirks while realising a deep love they never knew they had. The second half looks at almost a reversal of roles as 20 years on the older Poppy is forced to put the now dementia stricken Grandad into a home while trying to understand why in the end he forced through her adoption to another couple after only a year of her moving in with him.

Although there are six in the cast this is in effect a three hander – and the central roles of Grandad and Poppy are played absolutely brilliantly by Phil Cory and April Rand. April bursts onto the stage at the start of Act One – a vibrant, foul mouthed bundle of uncontrollable energy and sweeps the play along – but is perfectly matched by the talents of Phil, who has the difficult job of swapping between  an old man and an even older man, which he does seamlessly and superbly. The set by Dave Borthwick accurately conjures up a typical older persons home set firmly in the 50’s, and as the first half plays out the air crackles with Poppy and Grandad’s emotionally charged exchanges.

The second half does slow a little as deeper layers within the story and the characters are explored. Jo Lewis plays the grown up Poppy with a world weariness that belies her younger self – so much so that I would have liked a few more pointers from the Director to her previous alter ego. I know we all change – but there are always traces left in even the most jaded. The other characters are a bit underused by the writer. It would have been nice to have seen a bit more of snobbish Aunt Margaret – played with confidence by Emily Watt, who helps decide the young Poppy’s fate. And there are a few holes in the script – not least a rather wobbly time frame.

But these are minor points. This is a fabulous play performed by a first rate cast and is a must see. There is strong language throughout but as long as you don’t mind a bit of northern fffing and blinding go grab a ticket now – you’ll not regret it.

Suzanne Hawkes

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