Awful Auntie stormed into the Birmingham New Alexandra Theatre tonight delighting both children and adults alike. The latest David Walliams novel to be adapted for the stage has all the hallmarks that make Walliams’s books so brilliant, a monstrous villain, a plucky, determined child, a story of loss and friendship. But, unlike the other Walliam’s stories, this is a story set in the past, in the 1920s, and there’s no sign of Raj. That said,it is still a brilliantly told tale, and in Alberta Saxby, it has one of the most memorable baddies in recent times.
Stella Saxby is 12, almost 13, when she wakes up in her bed swathed head to toe in bandages. She’s been in a coma for four months, since the car crash that killed her parents Lord and Lady Saxby, and is now in the care of her Aunt Alberta and her giant Bavarian Owl Wagner. Stella is suspicious that her Aunt means her harm and may have been involved in the death of her parents, and this is confirmed when Stella is locked in the dark coal cellar. But in the cellar she meets a friendly ghost, Soot, a chimney sweep who lost his life when someone lit a fire underneath him. With Soot’s help, Stella sets about getting rid of her ‘awful auntie’, but it turns out to be a difficult job as her aunt outwits her every step of the way. Will Stella ever be safe again, and who is Soot really.
The key to the success of ‘Awful Auntie’ is the superb casting. Timothy Speyer is a hoot as Aunt Alberta, playing the role as a cross between Stanley Baxter and, well, David Walliams, in drag. His comedic timing his just brilliant, particularly in the Home Alone – esque scene when his bedroom is booby trapped. Georgina Leonidas and Ashley Cousins are also great, giving spirited charming performances as Stella and Soot, characters you can really get behind in their troubles. Elderly butler Gibbon, played by Richard James was another crowd pleaser, have the young audience in stitches with his short sighted, decrepit ways and actions, actions that include serving a pair of burnt slippers as breakfast and wiping a dirty floor with a priceless fur stole.
The staging of Awful Auntie is clever, with a vintage motor car careering across the stage, and sets that rotate to create a coal shute and a library and other rooms to give the impression of Saxby Hall. Wagner is wonderfully controlled by puppeteer Roberta Bellekom.
Awful Auntie is a delight for children of all ages.
New Alexandra Theatre
Wednesday 22 to Sunday 26 November 2017
Click here for ticket information