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Pictures: Mark Douet

Awful Auntie

Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton


David Walliams has cemented himself a position as a favourite children’s author both with his books and plays. His writing covers an appeal to a variety of ages.

I took a ten year old grandson and seven year old granddaughter to glean first hand responses from his target market. It is what children think that counts, not adults. Both are widely read, and culture vultures.

The story involves our heroine Stella Saxby, the sole heir to Saxby Hall. But awful Aunt Alberta and her giant owl will stop at nothing to get it from her. Luckily Stella has a secret – and slightly spooky – weapon up her sleeve on her side.

Produced by the Birmingham Stage Company the book has been adapted and directed by Neal Foster. Jackie Trousdale, is to be commended on a versatile set which is atmospheric, utilitarian, and striking. It is also central to the action aided by Jason Taylor’s clever lighting, particularly in the ghost scenes.

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Annie Cordoni convinces as Stella, initially naïve, but then resolute and resourceful. Mathew Allen’s Soot is a delight, spouting  comic cockney rhyming slang. Neal Foster’s Aunt Alberta overtly channels Rik Mayall, which doesn’t matter as none of the children in the audience will have heard of him. Zain Abrahams’ madcap butler Gibbon entertains. Wagner the owl menaces- but comes good in the end.

Walliams borrows heavily from pantomime for the slapstick comedy, and the Brothers Grimm for the dark recesses and excesses of the storyline. As an adult I feared that a horrible aunty who wanted to murder and stuff an owl, a murderously orphaned schoolgirl, a prolonged scene of electrical torture of the girl in a cage and her attempted battering by a mace might scare young children. I was wrong. They loved it and concentrated on the slapstick. Laughing and giggling uproariously.

Although two hours long including the interval, the evening never dragged, all the children in the auditorium stayed engaged with no bored toilet visits. Very good children’s entertainment. Continues on nationwide tour in Sunderland, Manchester, Richmond, Glasgow, Liverpool and Woking.

Gary Longden



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