“for the book’s fan base it is no doubt a delight to see the antics brought to the stage with imagination and charm”
Stella Saxby, 12-year-old heir to Saxby Hall, awakens bound in a bed at the will of her awful Auntie Alberta. Told that her parents were killed in a tragic car accident, all is not what it seems when auntie suspiciously mentions the ‘deedly weedlies’ for Saxby Hall.
David Walliams’ best selling book is brought to life by Birmingham Stage Company and the talented adapter and director, Neal Foster. With all the mischief and mayhem of Dahl’s Matilda, Awful Auntie is a dark comedy-thriller, with the mood captured perfectly in Jackie Trousdale’s marvellous staging. The gothic set features spectacular rotating turrets made for giddy chases in and out of rooms and chimneys. Puppets are creatively used throughout the play, crossing the expansive grounds of Saxby Hall to evoke the exhilarating sense of adventure of Walliams’ book. Wagner the Bavarian Owl is an exceptionally-made puppet, artfully managed by Roberta Bellekom.
Georgina Leonidas plays the resilient Stella with youthful energy and vigour. Despite her captivity and the fatal loss of her parents, Stella is rather unemotional which could explain the sense that something is missing throughout the show to make the audience really root for her. The lack of emotion becomes particularly apparent with the out of place class moral wedged on the end of the play. Despite this, scenes between Leonidas and the cockney ghost chimney sweep, Soot, have a playful innocence all set to the background of Jak Poore’s atmospheric score. The endearing, wide-eyed Soot is played humorously by Ashley Cousins, who previously starred in Gangsta Granny.
Awful Auntie Alberta (Richard James) is a Miss Trunchbull character with a sizeable dash of pantomime dame. The shrill dame voice is slightly grating in an overly-wordy opening scene that sadly falls flat. Fortunately, poo and trump gags win the young audience’s attention. The second act livens up with slapstick humour and a more villainous Awful Auntie appearing. The electrocution chamber that Stella is locked in feels slightly inappropriate but luckily only parents and not their children seem concerned about it.
Awful Auntie doesn’t quite follow in the footsteps of Gangsta Granny but for the book’s fan base it is no doubt a delight to see the antics brought to the stage with imagination and charm.
“The creative team have worked their magic to such an incredibly high standard”
Whether you are six or ninety-six, I can guarantee that the hilarity of this show will appeal to everyone. David Walliams, with his impressive career as a writer and comic actor (who can forget his first number one best seller ‘Gangsta Granny’? Or his TV co-creations ‘Little Britain’ and ‘Come Fly With Me?’) delivers this wonderful story which is adapted for the stage by Neal Foster (actor, writer and creator of The Birmingham Stage Company). I knew I was in for a treat!
It is a story of a young, recently orphaned girl Stella (Georgina Leonidas). Having survived a car accident in which both her parents were killed, her Aunt Alberta (Timothy Speyer) decides to take care of her and the family estate. How kind and responsible, you might think – but things are not what they seem. As the story unfolds, it appears that Aunt Alberta has stretched the truth and well, completely lied about most of it. Realising that she is in danger, Stella does what anyone would do; befriends a friendly ghost, avoids a terrifyingly large owl and climbs up the chimney, on more than one occasion.
Timothy Speyer brought the house down. His portrayal of Aunt Alberta was both funny but equally terrifying at the same time. From his screechy high-pitched wailings to his ability to rock a matching jacket/knickerbocker combo, it’s safe to say we counted ourselves lucky that we weren’t the ones locked in that tower under Alberta’s care. I have to say, my favourite character however, was the elderly and bonkers character of Gibbon, the butler (Richard James) who never failed to present the audience with a veil of absurdity.
The creative team have worked their magic to such an incredibly high standard. The use of puppets in the production, directed by Roman Stefanski (Polka Theatre, Wimbledon and creator of touring puppet shows ‘Charlie and Lola’ and ‘Sarah and Duck’) brings Wagner the owl to life and we are also treated to a scene that turns all of our characters into puppets!
Jacqueline Trousdale, the set and costume designer for the Birmingham Stage Company, has brought so many great things together for ‘Awful Auntie’. From the set, comprising of individual turrets that are spun around to reveal the inside of Saxby Manor, to the chimney sweep uniform of Soot, our friendly ghost.
The show highlights the fabulous work that goes into a production and is inspiring for theatre-goers of all ages. Such an entertaining spectacle – I want to see it again!