A few days ago I took an eight year old to the theatre.
We saw 'Gansta Grannie' at the Lowry in Salford Quays - that's next door to the Manchester United Football Ground for any southerners reading this. It's probably my favourite theatre. While The West End venues have more history the Lowry is modern, spacious and very comfortable, with its own, shop, café, bar and restaurant, plus not one but two theatres, a studio space and an art gallery - what more could I want?
If you don't know the story from the David Walliams book it's about an eleven year old boy forced to visit Grannie every Friday night while his parents go ballroom dancing. He is forced to play Scrabble and eat cabbage and she calls him 'Little Benny'. He hates it. It's so boring!
Until he discovers Grannie is really a retired jewel thief. Suddenly he wants to visit, and finds his school lessons really helpful in planning how to help her steal the crown jewels.
At the end of the play Grannie dies, adding the message that no one lives for ever. I thought that might be a bit over sentimental for a child, but the script avoided that very nicely, while still making the point that grandparents are more interesting than they might seem and they won't be there for ever so make the most of them. I've seldom seen a moral message put across so succinctly, or entertainingly, so if you get the chance think about going to this? Especially if you are accompanied by a child.
OK, so I've told you the plot, and the production was as good as I expected so both adult and child enjoyed the outing. Is that it?
Well, not quite. Another aspect was seeing the whole thing from the point of view of someone not yet used to theatre. Someone, if you like, in an alien environment.
My eight year old, for instance, refused to read the programme when we were seated because I'd explained it talked about the play. He said he didn't want to know that, it would spoil it. He did however spend the time we waited for the curtain to rise on the wordsearch page which included words relevant to the play, and continued this during the interval. Some kids want ice cream, he wanted words. Hooray!
In this fast paced production all the cast bar the two leads played multiple roles. Ben's father was also a policeman, his mother was also the Queen, some played numerous cameos or walk-on parts. This I accepted as normal, and part of the fun. My guest however only saw lots of characters. When the considerably smaller cast took their final bows he asked, 'Where's Ben's mother?' When I said she was the Queen, still in the persona she'd just appeared as, it took me a while to convince him.
Later, when we were talking about the play, and the programme was now 'allowed', I pointed out the photograph of the actress who played Grannie. His mouth fell open; the dumpy, grey haired lady was really a dark haired forty-something? 'No way!'
It gave me a dual enjoyment of the visit, as if I was two people with two different points of view. A real life version of when I write and 'become' someone else for a while. And a reminder not to take what I find so much for granted that I don't also see the strangeness in familiar things.
I guess that's why I like speculative fiction, seeing things with alien eyes?