Grow Up Grandad by Gordon Steel, is a thoughtful, heart wrenching and hilarious play with a terrible title.
Having watched opening night of Galleon Theatre Group‘s production at the Domain Theatre in Marion last night, this critic despairs that some audience goers might dismiss it as a goofy, light weight, children-friendly comedy.
It is not.
Grow Up Grandad is an emotional story of clumsy, tragic, and well-meaning communication between a grandad (Malcolm Walton) and his granddaughter, Poppy (Zoe Battersby) over the course of three decades.
The playwright has carefully crafted his poignant observations of life and familial relationships in a deftly constructed format of two acts with a healthy serving of symmetry; a particularly exchange between granddaughter and grandad in one act, finds itself repeated in reverse in the second.
Through this device and some very dry and wry humour, Grow Up Grandad delivers an evening of guffaws punctuated by some gasps and a few moments of tears.
We meet Poppy being picked up from school by her grandad unexpectedly, on behalf of her mum. This is an unusual forging of oil and water because the grandad, we learn, is not the warmest of humans and a “14 year old” is not necessarily equipped for being thrust together with someone old and potentially “reputation denting”. As the mum’s absence continues, the two protagonists have little choice other than to learn how to coinhabit until the arrival of “womanhood” in Poppy’s body nudges grandad out of his comfort zone, into the realisation that maybe this young girl needs a mother figure and more age appropriate guardianship. So off she goes, only to reunite 30 years later when some open questions are painfully confronted and answered amid the incessant circularity of life. If ever a sitting room play was ever worthy of Milan Kundera’s iconic title, this play is because it excruciatingly examines “the unbearable lightness of being” in a domestic setting.
While Malcolm Walton displays excellent timing and pathos with the delivery of some of his quips, and transitions well in the second act between scenes as the elderly grandad and his 30 year junior version of himself with aplomb, the haunting and enduring memories of this production were mercurially produced by Zoe Battersby. This young actor completely embodied every nuance of what it is to be 13 going on 14 in challenging circumstances. Just moments after the awkwardness of the opening scene at the school gates, Battersby soon endeared her character to us with a consummate display of vulnerability, mischief, fear, frustration, and sadness. Her performance was a wonderful study of a teenager and it must be seen. In fact, if there are any vacant seats for the remainder of this season, this critic will take it as an affront to theatre itself.
This Galleon Theatre Group production is a bold undertaking for a community theatre group. This play demands much of its two principal actors, who must convey the many, many subtle threads in this story amid numerous moments of conflict and unrequited displays of tenderness. On opening night, there were some scenes played more tentatively than planned but having successfully passed the test of opening night, the on-stage chemistry is will just keep getting tighter and tighter.
Linda Lawson’s Senior Poppy (the older version of the granddaughter), is played in a rigid, more two dimensional style, either full hysteria or calm. This could be an insight from director, Warren McKenzie, suggesting the place in life Poppy has arrived in, having navigated the emotional ravages of her journey. Social worker, Genevieve (Kaitlyn Meadows), is a diminutive figure, drawn into the play by Steel as the catalyst and facilitator of Poppy’s transition from “orphan” to foster child.
Warran McKenzie’s production design concept is perplexing at first before being revealed fully in the second act and, altogether, works well. It facilitates some nimble flashback scenes in the second act, nicely enriched by James Allenby’s lighting design and operation. Set, props and costumes were all perfectly rendered and sound design just worked.
Grow Up Grandad by Galleon Theatre Group is a disarmingly real story, earnestly played. It provides a satisfying night out to support and enjoy community theatre.