Awful Auntie Live On Stage In Birmingham

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.

Awful-Auntie-by-Birmingham-Stage-Company.-Photo-by-Mark-Douet-

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.

Awful-Auntie-by-Birmingham-Stage-Company.-Photo-by-Mark-Douet-

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.

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Awful Auntie is a delight for children of all ages.

Awful Auntie

New Alexandra Theatre 

Wednesday 22 to Sunday 26 November 2017

Click here for ticket information

Miracle On 34th Street – Feelgood Fun

Feelgood is a word that is overused at this time of the year, but when it comes to BMOS production of Miracle on 34th Street, it is the perfect word to use. This lovely production of a Christmas classic is warm, funny and charming, and in Stewart Keiller it has a lead character who may just be Santa Claus.

The story of Miracle on 34th Street is that of a Christmas Classic. A kindly elderly gentleman, Kris Kringle, comes into the life of a cynical little girl called Susan Walker. Susan’s mother Doris has hired him to play Santa at Macy’s, but Doris and Susan have no real love of Christmas, they don’t believe that Santa is real. Doris is also bruised by her experience of love, so when her new neighbour, retired marine Fred Gaily starts to pay attention to her and Susan, her defences go up and she tries to shut him out. But they are thrown together when Kris Kringle is accused of being insane because he says he is the real Santa Claus, with Doris asking Fred to defend Kris. Can Kris be saved from commitment, and can it be that he really is Santa Claus?

Ariane Photography Studio

Ariane Photography Studio

This is a heartwarming story that is told well by its talented cast. Stewart Keiller is just right as Kris Kringle, he plays Santa exactly as you want him to be, jolly, kindly and with a twinkle in his eye. Jo Smith has a wonderful singing voice that is shown to great effect as Doris, and she has a great chemistry with her leading man Matthew Collins as Fred. Matthew is great as Fred, particularly in the funny scene featuring ‘She Hadda Go Back. Willow Heath makes a super Susan, sweet and cute without being precocious, she touches the heart when she wishes for a farm house, with a swing and a cow.

The sets are just beautiful, recreating 1940s Macys and the parade with real style. The whole feel is of a Christmassy winter wonderland, a feeling only enhanced with the use of ‘It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas’. With a snowy fairytale finale, I left the theatre totally ready for Christmas.

Just lovely.

Miracle on 34th Street

New Alexandra Theatre

16th-18th November

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The Crucible at the New Alex Theatre – Powerful and Brilliant

The 1950s were strange times in America. The Second World War was over, but a Cold War emerged, and with it an aura of paranoia and hysteria that saw the country turning on itself, trying to weed out anyone who was a Communist, and therefore, un-American. Senator Joe McCarthy started his witch-hunts, which saw innocent people jailed, destroyed, their lives ruined by (often) false accusations, with people encouraged to name names. It was against this backdrop that America’s celebrated playwright Arthur Miller wrote his masterpiece ‘The Crucible’. a savage indictment of the modern day witch hunts played out through the Salem Witch hunts of the 17th Century. Last night, the play showed it had lost non of its power to shock when it opened at The New Alex Theatre.

Crucible-company-®Alessia-Chinazzo

In Salem, the teenage girls have started to act strangely, dancing naked in the woods in the dead of night, and falling into cataclysmic trances. The suspicious townsfolk, led by the sanctimonious but corrupt Reverend Parris (Cornelius Clarke), suspect witchcraft, with Parris worried for his reputation, as his niece Abigail(Lucy Keirl) seems to be at the core of the activity. Other townsfolk suspect nothing more than hysteria, with one, John Proctor (Eoin Slattery), fearing this is vengeance for his rejection of Abigail. Another priest, Reverend Hale (Charlie Condou) is called to the town to give his opinion, but soon the town jails are filled with men and women accused of witchcraft by the increasingly powerful girls. With the arrival of Judge Canforth (Jonathan Tafler), and the sinister arrest of Elizabeth Proctor (Victoria Yeates) and Rebecca Nurse (Augustina Seymour), events in the town of Salem descend into hell, anyone can be accused, and telling the truth may well lead to death.

Charlie Condou as Reverand Hale_Cornelius Clarke as Reverend Parris_Leona Allen as Betty Parris -®Alessia Chinazzo

This is a powerful piece of theatre which plays with your mind and lingers long after the curtain falls. Information about characters is flashed onto the stage backdrop in  a way that calls to mind Silent movies, perhaps a reminder of the Hollywood 10, destroyed by the McCarthy Witch hunts. Some of the cast are in period costume, others of suits and clothing more suited to the 1950s – again reminding us that this story from the past still has relevance in our more recent times.

The performances are excellent throughout the whole cast and show the mixture of emotions that run through the piece. John Proctor, as played by Eoin Slattery, is passionate and angry, even in the early scenes he is shown to be a man frustrated by the avarice of the church represented by Reverend Parris, and tormented by his attraction to Abigail. As his wife, Victoria Yeates is his polar opposite, her calm and dignity almost heartbreaking as she faces the accusations made against her.

Charlie Condou as Rev.Hale_ Eoin Slattery as John Proctor_Victoria Yeates as Elizabeth Proctor -®Alessia Chinazzo

Lucy Keirl is wonderfully evil as Abigail, showing no remorse as her words and actions condemn innocent men and women. Her ‘bewitching; is a tour de force in over the top histrionics – it would be funny if the consequences were not so devastating. Charlie Condou plays the role of the tortured Reverend Hale beautifully, his pain as he realises that the cases are built on lies and that good, innocent people are being killed is so real. Finally, Judge Danforth, as played by Jonathan Tafler, is an infuriating megalomaniac who cannot be wrong, nor made to see sense. It is a commanding performance that dominates the stage, sinister and yet measured in the playing.

The Crucible is an extraordinary piece of theatre that has so many echoes in our modern times. The final moments are as powerful and haunting as anything you will watch, and will remain with you long after you leave the theatre.

A must see.

The Crucible

New Alexandra Theatre

Tuesday 6- Saturday 10th June

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