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Awful Auntie, Reviewed

David Walliams' no.1 children’s best-seller has its first stage outing with a stop-off in Exeter, whoop!

The totally on-it Catherine of Muddy Warwickshire fame, has been, seen and given her thumbs up on this one – and it’s on its way to Exeter in March – huzzah!

Actors on stage

Production Photos by Mark Douet

David Walliams’ Awful Auntie is a comic, slightly creepy story for kids, hilariously inspired by Stanley Kubrick’s 80s horror film The Shining – starring Jack Nicholson.

The “Here’s, Auntie” scene when Aunt Alberta peers through a hole she’s smashed open in the front door of Saxby Hall is my favourite bit. It’s very funny!

Birmingham Stage Company’s inventive two-hour staging of David Walliams best-selling 2014 book is their follow-up to Gangsta Granny and Horrible Histories.

Like Miss Trunchbull in the RSC’s adaptation of Roald Dahl’s Matilda, Aunt Alberta, a buxom opera-loving evil baddie, is played by a man – brought brilliantly to life by an excitable Timothy Speyer in plaid trouser suit, golfing socks and a red wig.

She really is an awful auntie who loves playing competitive Tiddlywinks, is obsessed with owls and trying to kill off her 12-year-old niece Stella, so she can inherit the family home.

Actors on stage

Stella Saxby, nicely played by Georgina Leonidas – who film fans will recognise as Gryffindor Quidditch player Katie Bell in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince – wakes up to find herself bandaged up in bed like a mummy three months after a car accident in which her parents, Lord and Lady Saxby, were killed. Aunt Alberta breaks the news in the most unsympathetic way possible telling Stella they’re “Dead as dead can be. Dead, dead, dead…”

Director Neal Foster has placed the action in real time through various rooms, cellars, secret fireplaces, chimneys and mechanical moving turrets of the mansion as Stella turns Sherlock Holmes to uncover her aunt’s crime assisted by a chipper chimney sweep child-ghost as her Watson – Ashley Cousins.

Richard James is fabulously eccentric as ancient butler Gibbon. At one point he walks on stage pushing a lawnmower muttering: “The carpet needs a clean!” and serving up slippers as buttered crumpets.

There’s some clever use of puppetry – including Wagner, Alberta’s Great Bavarian Mountain Owl, and miniature versions of the central characters.

The action culminates in a live car chase on stage.

Actors on stage

But the moral class message that ‘posho’s’ are no different to anyone else feels a little excessive towards the end.

Birmingham Stage Company has created a fun, feelgood touring family show. It isn’t as raucously funny as Matilda The Musical but has some witty laugh out loud jokes and silliness.

You’ll have an absolute hoot!

David Walliams’ Awful Auntie runs at the Exeter Northcott Theatre from Wed 14 – Sun 18 March. 

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