(4 / 5)
The Birmingham Stage Company’s brilliant adaptation of David Walliam’s 2014 bestselling book Awful Auntie, captivates both children and adults.
Following on from their sellout tour of another Walliam’s book. Gangsta Granny, the BSC is embarking on an eighteen-month tour of the UK which featured a run during the summer at The Garrick theatre in London’s West End.
The show, endorsed by Walliams, is faithful to the book, and is fast-paced and funny, with an ingenious set design.
The story has twelve-year old Stella Saxby awakening in a bed, and being unable to move any part of her body. Casting away the bedding, she reveals that she is covered head to toe in bandages. Her screams arouse her Aunt Alberta, who tells her that she has been in a coma for three months and that she and her parents were involved in a road accident, resulting in the death of both mother and father, thereby leaving Stella an orphan.
However, Stella soon realises her awful auntie has a nefarious plan to wrestle the stately home Saxby Hall, that now belongs to Stella, into her hands, but doesn’t know where the deeds are hidden.
Auntie has a Great Bavarian Owl named Wagner, (Get it?), who acts as her henchman – or should that be henchowl? Stella encounters a ghost called Soot, a sweep who succumbed to his burns when someone lit a fire when he was up the chimney. There is a crazed ancient butler named Gibbon and an Inspector Strauss who is called to investigate Stella’s suspicions about her auntie.
AWFUL AUNTIE CREDITS
Story adapted and directed by Neal Foster
Set and Costume Designer: Jacqueline Trousdale
Lighting Designer: Jason Taylor
Composer: Jak Poore
Stella Saxby – Georgina Leonidas
Aunt Alberta – Timothy Speyer
Gibbon – Richard James
Wagner – Roberta Bellekom (puppeteer)
Soot – Ashley Cousins
Detective Strauss – Peter Mistyyoph
The star attraction of this show is the set design. Four revolving doors and staircases create an impression of travel through the mansion, and a reference should be made to the stagehands, who work hard to render seamless scene changing within the fast-paced story.
Composer Jak Poore’s jaunty musical rhythm is exactly right to complement the actions unfolding on stage.
The cast possess rich cvs of their previous stage and film work, and it is easy to see this by their acting expertise on Stage.
Georgina Leonidas, you may recognise from her film portrayal of Harry Potter’s fellow Gryffindor Quidditch player, Katie Bell, in both parts of the Deathly Hallows stories. She plays a believable twelve-year old, innocent initially but becoming more savvy as the story develops.
Awful Auntie Alberta is played in grand pantomime dame fashion by Timothy Speyer who maintains staying in character without going over the top, with commendable skill and constraint.
Richard James’s Gibbon has some of the funniest scenes and on occasion reminded me of Groucho Marx in his movements.
Ashley Cousins plays Soot in a Cockney accent that is consistent throughout, together with a youthful vitality to enable him to portray Stella’s aide, confidant and friend in a credible way.
Roberta Bellekom’s consummate puppetry skills enable Wagner to be at times a villain and at others a cute pet.
Peter Mistyyoph plays Inspector Strauss in a mysterious way. See this show and you will know what I mean.
All is put together by Neal Foster’s faithful adaptation and brilliant direction. David Walliams commends Foster for having a similar sense of humour, which results in his capturing the essence of the author’s work. He had previously directed the Gangsta Granny adaptation to universal acclaim.
This is a visual treat for children. A school formed a large percentage of the audience for the performance that I viewed, and there was not a restless child among them. They left excited and contended with what they had just watched.
At times, the humour is a little risque and there are a couple of scenes that young children of a nervous disposition might feel uncomfortable with.
A scene where auntie is trying to break down a door with an axe to get at Stella, is accompanied by “Here comes Auntie”, reminding us of the famous passage in Stanley Kubric’s The Shining.
Awful Auntie is a first-rate children’s show with an engaging story-line, excellently performed and a visual delight on stage.
Brecon is my hometown but I had moved away, many years before Theatr Brycheiniog emerged in 1997. This was the first full-scale production that I had ever seen there and If this is the calibre of work that they present , then I am looking forward to many happy returns in the future.
The show concludes its Brecon run on the 10th of December and resumes it’s nationwide tour in the New Year. Venues and dates can be found here:-