Rose Zierer inspires the West End staging of David Walliams’ Gangsta Granny

PUBLISHED: 18:53 30 June 2017 | UPDATED: 18:53 30 June 2017

Birmingham Stage Company presents Gangsta Granny by David Walliams.  

Picture: Mark Douet

Birmingham Stage Company presents Gangsta Granny by David Walliams. Picture: Mark Douet

Photo by Mark Douet

Under the Age UK Camden’s Good Neighbour Scheme, theatre manager Neal Foster was matched with 97-year-old Rose Zierer and visited her Chalk Farm home weekly for six years

It was the loss of his own mother that prompted Neal Foster to volunteer for Age UK Camden.

Under the charity’s Good Neighbour Scheme, the theatre manager was matched with 97-year-old Rose Zierer and visited her Chalk Farm home weekly for six years.

When the 50-year-old came to adapt fellow Belsize Park resident David Walliams’ Gangsta Granny for the stage, he dedicated it to Rose.

“I would see Age UK flyers asking for donations but thought ‘wouldn’t it be more effective if I volunteered?’,” says Foster, who founded Birmingham Stage Company 25 years ago.

“My mum died of depression 12 years ago, there was nothing I could do to help her in the last years of her life, but as I began to realise what she had suffered, I thought ‘if I do something positive and help someone else it’s the same as helping her’.”

Foster, whose stagings of George’s Marvellous Medicine and Horrible Histories play to packed houses, felt “very lucky” to be paired with Rose.

“We hit it off immediately. She was the most exceptional strong character who took no nonsense. She had lived through two world wars which for someone who stages Horrible Histories was fascinating. It was an important relationship for me, we’re all busy with our own lives but it’s easy to feel what am I contributing?.”

Aiming to alleviate loneliness, the scheme echoes themes in Walliams’ bestseller, about a granny who invents a thrilling past to entice her reluctant grandson to visit.

“When you’ve lived as long as Rose all your friends have died, her husband was dead, she had no children. Loneliness is a real issue,” says Foster.

“In Gansta Granny the grandson is bored of playing scrabble and eating cabbage. When she overhears him telling his parents ‘I can’t stand it here,’ she creates these stories. They end up getting carried away and try to steal the Crown Jewels.

“David’s story doesn’t pull any punches. He’s robust in its storytelling which stops it being sentimental. It’s fantastical in terms of the plot but their relationship is very astute and truthful.”

Foster dedicated the play to Rose “because their relationship is very similar to mine with Rose.”

“Rose has had an effect on me greater than the effect I had on her. Helping someone but not as a family obligation is so rewarding. I made the last six years of her life much easier and was lucky to have been there for such a great woman. Those of us who volunteer get so much out of it. It’s a great bargain”

When Rose died aged 103, Foster started visiting 87-year-old Joy from Belsize Park.

Now adapting Walliam’s Awful Auntie for the stage he has enjoyed working with the children’s author.

“We share the same sense of humour and an understanding of what we’re trying to achieve. I like to be faithful to the essence of the book - our only disagreement was when he wanted me to take more liberties. He has a refreshing view of his own work”.

Foster loves writing for children: “I find them fascinating. There’s no difference between me and a child except I am more experienced. Entertaining children it’s a real challenge to keep their attention. If they’re bored they start talking, you have to give them a reason to keep listening. They can handle incredibly difficult themes if you give them a way in. What’s the last adult play that dealt with loneliness and issues of old age? Gangsta Granny is a children’s show that might change adult attitudes about how they deal with the older people in their lives.”

Gangsta Granny runs at the Garrick Theatre from July 26 to August 1 with a gala night, auction and aftershow party on July 28 when all proceeds go to Age UK Camden.

Latest Hampstead & Highgate Stories


Arsenal, Queens Park Rangers, Tottenham Hotspur and West Ham United are among 14 London clubs taking part in Amnesty International UK’s second ‘Football Welcomes initiative this weekend’.

Yesterday, 19:24

Good news for Arsenal fans travelling to Atletico Madrid. Bigwigs at the club have decided to subsidise tickets for the Europa League semi-final second leg away in the Spanish capital.

Yesterday, 18:44

All Guns Blazing guest columnist Rosie Tudball raises an issue which has had loyal Arsenal fans fuming ahead of the eagerly-awaited tie with Atletico Madrid in the Europa League semi-final.

Yesterday, 18:37

Arsene Wenger has revealed Arsenal have offered a “long-term” contract to Jack Wilshere and that his future will be decided before the World Cup.

Yesterday, 17:00

Tom Loizou’s team have hit form at the perfect time and now have a faint chance of winning automatic promotion this season

Yesterday, 14:27

On Saturday Tottenham and Man United will do battle at the national stadium, Spurs’ home venue for this season, for a place in the FA Cup final

Yesterday, 16:21

After over 50 years in the acting industry, and a decade of unprecedented success delivering outstanding part-time performing arts tuition at her weekend Academies across the country, Pauline Quirke returns to her roots to create even more opportunities for young performers in North London.

Yesterday, 16:16

On the market for the first time in many years is this attractive, substantial detached double fronted family house located in a prime location.

Most read Hampstead & Highgate etcetera

Show Job Lists

Digital Edition


Enjoy the
Hampstead & Highgate Express
e-edition today


Education and Training


Read the
Education and Training
e-edition today

Read Now