aunty and stella

Timothy Speyer as Aunt Alberta and Georgina Leonidas as Stella in a rooftop fight to the death

Awful Auntie

Belgrade Theatre, Coventry


So what do you do if you are held prisoner in the family’s stately home by a psychopathic serial killer of an aunty and her malevolent owl?

Easy really; you enlist the help of the ghost of a chimney sweep murdered in the house years ago and let the good versus evil battle commence.

It sounds a bit like the plot for a Hammer Horror film, but this is David Walliams and he has tapped wonderfully into a world children love, with eccentric characters, really bad baddies and lots of the sort of gruesome stuff that kids delight in.

And his fun novel is brought to life on stage brilliantly by children’s theatre masters Birmingham Stage Company, responsible for the award-winning adaptation of David Walliams’ Gangsta Granny which will be touring again from next month.

Awful Auntie sees Stella awakening from a coma after three months to find she is held prisoner by her Aunt Alberta, who, from her first appearance, is obviously mad as a hatter.

Stella survived but her parents died in a car accident . . . but was it really an accident? Saxby Hall now belongs to Stella and that is something Aunt Alberta desperately wants . . . and she doesn't care how she gets it!

Georgina Leonidas manages to appear 12 (nearly 13) and has a delightful innocence as the young heroine whose life is in danger from her evil aunt, played superbly awfully by Timothy Speyer as the pantomime dame from hell with her penchant for torture and murder – oh and her obsession with tiddlywinks, a game which she plays, or rather cheats at, with her own rules which change from moment to moment  to ensure she always wins

stella and soot

Georgina Leonidas as Stella and Ashley Cousins as Soot

Then we have Richard James as the butler Gibbon whose mind left the planet some years ago and Wagner, the huge Bavarian Owl operated by puppeteer Roberta Bellekom.

Finally there is soot, the orphaned chimney sweep murdered in the house years ago who now haunts the halls. Soot, played delightfully by Ashley Cousins, is not what you expect of ghosts, for a start he can’t pass through walls or, as we discover, piles of coal, nor can he float. He can be seen only by children . . . and owls. And we discover ghosts cannot be seen once you become a teenager.

The scene setting at the start is necessary but the production lifts noticeably when Soot appears with his promise of fun to come – and we are not disappointed.

There is wit, chases, jokes and plenty of references to bodily functions – something which is always guaranteed to make kids laugh.

Then there is the more gruesome bits, like Stella being electrocuted in the owl screech cage, and even though she was the heroine, her discomfort still brought the laughs. Children can be very cruel. My six-year-old grandson’s favourite bit, for example was when Wagner, the owl, dropped Aunt Alberta from a great height to her demise in a great splat.

Her comeuppance for her murderous past, a demise, incidentally, created by the clever use of small puppets for outdoor scenes.

It is horror, but cartoon-style, full of chuckles and manages to remain true to the novel bringing out every ounce of fun with plenty of visible humour from ants in the pants to . . . parents just check for sheets of glass in your toilet before you . . . you know. Just a thought – buy a ticket to find out why.

Neal Foster from BSC has done a great job with the adaptation and directs with a confident hand keeping up a fast pace to carry a young audience along with the story but not so fast as to lose the plot. He packs an awful lot of story into two hours, including interval

The set, from Jacqueline Trousdale, has four huge revolving circular towers, and is quite magical. The towers rotate and move to create every room from library to bedroom, cellar to kitchen, garage to roof, while the Saxby Rolls Royce is a real working car, driven by its own power, not a car on castors pushed around or a static model with a moving background. A lovely little touch which shows an admirable attention to detail.

Incidentally, the rising waters of the lake threatening to drown Stella is a simple and effective special effect which works well.

If you know the novel you will love the stage show, if you don’t know the novel - then the stage show is a half term treat full of fun and laughs with plenty of gruesome bits to make you cringe with disgusted delight. To 24-02-18.

Roger Clarke


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