Thanks to the New Theatre for inviting us to review Awful Auntie
David Walliams is without a doubt one of the country’s most exciting contemporary children’s authors. The man who was once most famous as one half of the Little Britain comedy sketch show now boasts a collection of 10 children’s novels and five picture books so far.
His ability to write about deep and complex issues in a sensitive yet humorous way, coupled with a penchant for grotesque behaviour, means he’s often billed as the new Roald Dahl. A high accolade indeed but one he undoubtedly deserves, with his books having sold more than 17 million copies in 53 languages since his first title The Boy In The Dress was published in 2008.
We are huge Walliams fans in this house. His quirky picture books such as The Slightly Annoying Elephant and The First Hippo On The Moon are regularly chosen by my youngest as bedtime stories. My eldest two children are currently working their way through his longer chapter books and have delighted in such titles as Bad Dad, Grandpa’s Great Escape, and The Midnight Gang – so we were thrilled to be invited to review Birmingham Stage Company’s adaptation of Awful Auntie at the New Theatre last night as part of its debut UK tour.
None of us have read this book yet so other than the basic synopsis we had no idea of what to expect. But having seen other stage adaptations from Birmingham Stage Company, who have received much acclaim for their adaptations of Walliams’ Gangsta Granny, as well as books by Roald Dahl and the Horrible Histories titles, we knew we were in safe hands and are pleased to report that we loved the show.
Awful Auntie is darker than a lot of Walliams’ books and there were times when I was worried my children were finding it frightening. The eerie mansion, the screeching Great Bavarian Mountain Owl Wagner, Aunt Alberta trapping Stella in an electrified bird cage and torturing her, could have been the stuff of horror movies. However there is so much humour woven into the show that it diluted any moments of fear and we all spent much of the show laughing.
The play opens with 12-year-old Lady Stella Saxby waking up to be told by her Aunt Alberta that she has been in a coma for three months following a car accident which killed her parents. Her entire body is bandaged up, her aunt tells her, because every bone in her body was broken in the crash.
However it soon becomes clear that it was no accident and that Aunt Alberta is intent on doing everything within her power to get the deeds to the family mansion, Saxby Hall. Locked in a cellar, and with her life in real danger, Stella meets the Cockney chimney sweep ghost of a young boy named Soot who died in the house. Together the two plot to defeat the murderous aunt.
Stella is such a strong and determined character. Played by Georgina Leonidas (best known as Quidditch-playing Katie Bell in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Parts 1 and 2) I loved her resilience and quick-thinking as she and Ashley Cousins as Soot are inspired by Stella’s love of Sherlock Holmes detective stories to investigate what truly happened.
As I mentioned, the dark nature of the show is lightened with plenty of humour and much of this comes from Richard James as eccentric butler Gibbon. My children thought his complete ambivalence and confusion as to what was going on around him was hilarious. There were also plenty of laughs at the slapstick tricks Stella and Soot play on Auntie as they seek revenge.
Timothy Speyer as Aunt Alberta is utterly brilliant in his characterisation of this ghastly and menacing character, reminiscent of Miss Trunchbull, the bullying headmistress in Dahl’s Matilda. Speyer’s costume and red wig makes him look just like the picture on the book’s cover. Walliams says in the programme’s notes that the character isn’t based on his real life aunties… but I could just imagine Walliams himself playing the role.
All the action takes place in the mansion and its grounds and Jacqueline Trousdale’s set perfectly facilitates this with rotating scenery that the characters can climb around, allowing them to access different rooms and to even climb up and down the chimney.
Sensitive children might find parts of the show frightening but there’s plenty of humour throughout and it ends on a real high. As in every good children’s book, the villainous Aunt Alberta gets her comeuppance and the children are triumphant as Wagner helps to save the day.
The only thing left now is for us to read the book and delve deeper into the world of Lady Stella Saxby.
Awful Auntie is at the New Theatre Cardiff until Sunday and there are tickets available for all performances costing between £13.50 and £25.50. See the website for information or call the box office on 029 2087 8889
The show is touring the UK until December. Full list of venues and dates are here.
Here’s what other local parent bloggers thought of the show.
Read Alina from We Made This Life’s review here.
Read Debbie from An Organised Mess’s review here.
PIN ME FOR LATER