Writer: David Walliams
Adapter and Director: Neal Foster
Reviewer: Simon Topping
What is immediately apparent about Birmingham Stage Company’s adaptation of David Walliams’ Children’s classic Awful Auntie is the beautifully crafted and atmospheric set. Designed by Jacqueline Trousdale, four fabulous rotating turrets represent Saxby Hall, the family stately home where all the action takes place. Used to perfection, these towers bring a sparkle and magic on stage, as if they were an additional cast member.
The play starts and our lead, the 12 year old Stella Saxby (played wide eyed and full of wonder by Georgina Leonidas) wakes to find herself the only surviving member of a tragic car accident. Held captive by her Aunt Alberta (Timothy Speyer) and auntie’s evil, ever watching, Owl, Wagner, Stella hunts to discover the true nature of what happen to her parents and why Alberta is keeping her hostage. With the help of a friendly ghost, ex-chimney sweep nicknamed Soot, she begins to unravel the mystery.
The small cast of Awful Auntie are excellent. Leonidas as the main character is marvellous to watch. Her detailed performance gains support from the young audience from the off; by act two they are willing her to succeed in her mission, shouting out from the stalls in encouragement.
Harry Sutherland as Soot has an innocence and charm about him, reminiscent of a young Tommy Steele. Teaching Stella cockney rhyming slang as well as letting out a trump or two gains a few big guffaws from the crowd. He also has the unenviable job of climbing the towers several times through the performance as they spin. Thankfully there were no falls on this evening, as it looked a long way down.
Inducing most the giggles in the room, however, is the tour-de-force performance of Speyer as the title character of the piece. He is a wonderful mixture of Little Britain grotesque and pantomime dame. With fabulous physicality and expressive turn of phrase, auntie often steals the scenes; a wonderful cartoon baddy that has all the kids laughing and praying for her comeuppance.
Richard James also shines as Gibbon, the bonkers butler, who can be seen mowing the carpet or taking a tiger rug for a walk. James has excellent comic timing and has created a warm, boffin like, persona for the role. It would have been nice to see Gibbon woven more into the plot rather than just as a comedic relief.
The story itself is a mostly entertaining and simple one, especially in scenes with Alberta and her niece. There is also a short puppetry section which was a joy to watch and a great change of medium, which could have been used to great effect more throughout the play.
At junctures the script sags a small amount, it is perhaps a little wordy for the very young and in need more slapstick to satisfy a demanding crowd yet, the fine cast of Awful Auntie pull the throng through and ensure this is fabulous outing for all the family, ages 6 and up.
Runs until 9 June 2018 | Image: Mark Douet