Reviewed – 12th December 2018
“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.
Reviewed by Beth Partington
Photography by Mark Douet
Bloomsbury Theatre until 6th January