Writer: David Walliams
Adaptor/Director: Neal Foster
Reviewer: Sam Lowe
David Walliams has become an established writer of children’s literature; he has written 14 books. Global sales of his books exceed over 20 million copies. Prior to this performance, Walliams’ book Gangsta Granny was adapted for the stage by Birmingham Stage Company. Now it’s time for Awful Auntie to be theatricalised.
When she sets off to visit London with her parents, Lord and Lady Saxby, Stella is completely unaware her life is in grave danger. Skipping forward three months later, only her Aunt Alberta is able to tell Stella what had happened. But not everything Alberta tells her is the truth, she has a motive, and Stella quickly realises she must fight for her own life against her very own awful Auntie. Along the way, Stella meets chimney sweeper, Soot, and together they will make sure that good triumphs over evil.
You can tell how much the influence of other famous children books has seeped into this story. It’s creative and wonderful to witness. There is an absolute nod to Matilda by Roald Dahl, in terms of the characters and the plot. The humour in the show is quite hit and miss. One joke, in reference to the idea of “woman drivers” was in poor taste. Sometimes the humour feels forced in or jokes don’t land with the audience of children and adults, other times it really works and evokes a reaction. It seems, the quirkier and more goofy the show is, the better. Also, the characters narrate what they are doing and thinking. This is an effective way to maintain the engagement of the children, however occasionally it’s not always necessary, the action speaks for itself. Saying that, there are deeper meanings to be recognised within the subtext of the play. It excellently teaches young people about abuse: physical and emotional abuse and neglect.
Timothy Speyer plays Aunt Alberta with ardour, successfully blending humour and wickedness together. The resilient and brave Stella is played by Georgina Leonidas, with constant energy and commitment. Although at moments using direct address, it doesn’t feel as though she is looking at the audience directly. Wagner the owl is evil but cute at the same time, masterly puppeteered by Roberta Bellekom. Impressive vocal work is demonstrated by Ashley Cousins allowing his voice to go nasally and squeaky in the role of Soot. Finally, the eccentric servant Gibbon, acted out by Richard James, provides fantastic moments of bizzare humour.
The set design, by Jacqueline Trousdale, is a definite highlight of the show. The rooms of the manor house create a playground, with a helter-skelter and hidden compartments you can crawl around and hide in. So much fun to look at.
As the play comes to an end, the key messages of the story are exposed. The end scene involving Stella and Soot is moving, informing the children that they will inevitably grow up but that doesn’t mean they have to lose their inner magic. And, whether you are from a palace or a workhouse, we are all the same.
Runs until: Sunday 24th June | Image: Mark Douet