BREVIEW: Grandpa’s Great Escape Live @ Arena Birmingham (last show on 26.12.19)

Words by Vix & Ruby-Lou / Pics courtesy of Arena Birmingham

It was my daughter, Ruby-Lou, who spotted this event, exclaiming: “I am a huge David Walliams fan – I read all his books and I’ve seen all of his films; I need to see Grandpa’s Great Escape Live!”

Although this is the only Walliams flick I haven’t seen, I have heard of his bestselling book (and favourite, apparently). Plus, if it’s from Walliams you can trust the content will be humorous, thought-provoking, and suitable for child and parent alike. So, we’re on our way to Arena Birmingham… full of Frankfurt Christmas Market food and good cheer.

Getting tickets to the very first performance of Grandpa’s Great Escape Live (which will run for three days at Arena Birmingham before heading out across the country) we sit down in our rickety seats amidst an almost sold out venue – packed with excited children, accompanying parents and grandparents.

There is a ‘catwalk’ style walkway which protrudes from the stage and into the audience. Then, out of the blue, Walliams himself walks out across the stage, down the catwalk and into the centre of the arena. This is a real surprise and a lovely personal touch, as he promises us that we are “in for a treat” and indeed we were.

Nigel Planer stars as the beloved Grandpa Joe and WWII flying ace, who is struggling with dementia. Jack, his grandson and only true ally, keeps him on path by using military metaphors and commands – played superbly by Tom Cawte, who hops around the stage like a young effervescent Gordon Ramsey (but without the potty mouth of course).

Jack’s traffic cone obsessed father isn’t much help. His teenage sister is too preoccupied with her boyfriend and Duran Duran, whilst his aerobics instructor mother just wants to send Grandpa Joe to Twilight Towers (cue lightning crack and loud thunder sfx) the dreaded retirement home where residents are doped up on sleeping tablets as the evil owner, Miss Dandy, swindles them out of their money. And if you haven’t already cottoned on this story is set in the 1980s, so contains numerous references that only ‘we of a certain age’ would understand. Having spent my teenage years as a popstar in the mid-80s, this is an added bonus for me (however, they could have used Fuzzbox’s ‘International Rescue’ for one of the rescue scenes).

All that’s left is for Jack and Grandpa Joe to plan the titular ‘great escape’ – saving all the old folks from Twilight Towers, Grandpa flies away in a life sized Spitfire just as he did in WWII. It’s a poignant reminder to value and respect our elderly family and friends, the moral of this story, with a particularly sombre moment at Grandpa Joe’s eventual funeral.

I definitely want to watch the film of Grandpa’s Great Escape now, and if you get a chance to see the live production both Ruby-Lou and myself would recommend it – my daughter giving it a whole-hearted 10/10 because “it was soooo good!”, whilst I award a slightly more reserved 7/10 due to the description of a ‘spectacular show’ and ‘wondrous stage design’ feeling a little exaggerated.

And whilst it may be down to opening show jitters, a few of the jokes fell a bit flat and more encouragement for audience participation would have gone down well – it wasn’t always clear when we should or shouldn’t join in. But the life-size props of a Spitfire airplane and real tank were exciting to see, and overall Grandpa’s Great Escape Live is a very enjoyable afternoon.

Vix & Ruby Lou’s Live Vlog Review – Grandpa’s Great Escape Live @ Arena Birmingham

Grandpa’s Great Escape Live presents its final show at Arena Birmingham on 26th December, before touring across the UK– as presented by Phil McIntyre Entertainments. For direct show information, including venue details and online ticket sales, visit www.arenabham.co.uk/whats-on/grandpas-great-escape

For more on Grandpa’s Great Escape Live, including full tour details and online ticket sales, visit www.grandpasgreatescapelive.co.uk

For more on Arena Birmingham, including further event listings, visit www.arenabham.co.uk

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