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New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich
Carl Giles was a cartoonist who moved to Ipswich in the 40s and his cartoons became famous for their style, political satire, and the extended, maverick family of characters, of which ‘Grandma’ became the most iconic. As well as appearing in the Daily Express, the Giles cartoons and wonderful drawings became an annual book each Christmas.
Phil Willmott, has taken inspiration from the Giles characters and the flavour of the cartoons and based this comedy musical show on them. Combined with the political and social backdrop of the eighties, with some cracking pop tunes, this truly is a show bursting of colour, music and content.
If you’ve been to a New Wolsey Theatre Panto before, you know you are in for a unique treat. ALL the actors play at least one instrument, probably two, to bring this musical to life. The ‘band’ is not only integrated into the scenery, it is part of the story: the actors act, sing and play throughout – the performance energy is off the scale.
The number of family members, the music and the set design provides an environment where there is a feast for the eyes which keeps you engaged every minute.
Set in the late 1980s, if you are ‘that age’ you’d appreciate all the subtle nods as well as touching on the political issues that were prevalent in that time. There are plenty of threads to follow, due to the extended family…. there is love, personal strategy, leadership, strikes, social welfare, family values.
Bridget Giles (Grace Lancaster) and Larry Stinkleton (Guy Freeman) are falling in love, Mother Giles (Alice Kneedwell) runs the family home, Father Giles (Peter Manchester) pickets for what he believes is right, Vera Giles (Lana Walker) is constantly snivelling, Carole Giles (Christina Tedders) a young mum with twins who inspires Rupert Farley Rusk (James Haggie), and neighbours Eileen Stinkleton (Nicky Swift) and Mervyn Stinkleton (Adam Langtsaff) are keeping up appearances.
We have innuendos, misuse of words for plenty of comedy moments for audience participation of laughter, oooos and arrrrrrhs and ‘ouch’ when there is a comment about Ipswich Town FC.
The music consists of pop songs of the era, with changed words to fit the story line, but so clever they fit very well thought out. If you’re sharp enough you’ll see the actors even get the dances. Songs include: Especially for You, Come On Eileen, Killer Queen, Respectable, Our House, Part of The Union, Pina Colada… and many more, it is a musical after all. When you have Margaret Thatcher singing a Blonde song…well, it truly is fabulous.
The actors, all twelve, were amazing, some doubling up characters and were so good you didn’t realise it was the same one. And yes, Grandma Giles (Steve Simmonds) really only said ‘Gertcha!’
Many funny moments and spoilers, however it could have been slightly shorter to tighten up some of the threads, although it’s not about the serious political storyline – this is a musical.
The antics of Grandma and her tribe by The New Wolsey Theatre is so whacky, surreal and bizarre it was hugely entertaining and the group of actors/musicians sucked you in with their energy and talent. It was a night of bonkers fun.
Did you know there was a Grandma statue in Ipswich?