Awful Auntie | Theatre Review
Grand Opera House, Belfast • Wednesday 15 August ’18
Words: Conor O’Neill
The Birmingham Stage Company’s adaptation of David Walliams’ kids’ book Awful Auntie ventures its way to Belfast and children and adults alike leave with huge grins on their faces.
Adapted by founder, manager, and director, Neal Foster, the company, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary, steers a plot revolving around Saxby Manor. The Opera House’s stage is transformed from coal-cellar to chimney innards, stately-home lake, library, bedroom, kitchen, rooftop… this may read very complex but set and costume designer, Jaqueline Trousdale, makes every set and mood change seem so plausible, neat and tidy.
The plot is simple and one that kids have taken to their hearts if book sales alone are to go by. I’ve never read a single one of Walliams’ 14 titles, but like all good tales and adaptations, previous knowledge is not required to enjoy this one hour and 30-minute show. We have a heroine, 12-year-old, Stella Saxby, a devilish plot by her wicked Aunt Alberta to inherit the country pile, Wagner, a Bavarian owl, Soot the Cockney ghost, Gibbon, a blithering idiot of a butler and a can’t-quite-put-your-finger-on-it ‘detective’ from New Scotland Yard.
Intrigue is nurtured from the start, but Horrible Histories’ writer Foster pushes thrice as many giggles and horrors in the second half of the tale than the first. What makes children laugh seems to have remained unchanged since time began: farts and bodily functions, outrageous slapstick, ridiculous fashions, funny and unlikely scenarios, and the macabre return the approximately one-third of the audience able to vote to a wonder-filled childlike innocence. Gibbon gets more than his fair share of unlikely gags, seemingly from nowhere but Walliams’ wild imagination. Chicken cooked with feathers still intact seasoned with engine oil, a filthy carpet cleaned by means of an antique rotary lawnmower being just two of the delights that’ll bring a smile to the most depressed soul.
As puppeteer Roberta Bellekom steers Wagner about the stage, just five other actors are required to bring the book to life. Timothy Speyer’s energy as Aunt Alberta spurs the whole tale on and much to the delight of the kids gets booed at the end. For a mid-August evening, the panto-like feel is definitely in the air. Georgina Leonidas plays Stella, coupled up with Victorian ghost Soot, Ashley Cousins, as they try to derail the awful one’s scheming. Richard James’ Gibbon, who has at most 20 brilliant one-liners, guarantees a chortle every time he takes the stage, while the inept and skeptical Detective Strauss adds a little confusion to the night.
Will the supposed owl-lover get her way? Will Stella be set free from a life of bandages, locked doors, and electric shocks, will the murderous mystery ever be solved? To find out and send the kids back to school with a smile on their faces and glee and mischief in their minds book your tickets today!
Awful Auntie runs until 18 August with two shows at 11am on Friday and Saturday. There are plenty of offers available for family tickets, concessions, groups and a teacher and pupil deal. For further info phone the Grand Opera House box office on 02890 241919 or visit www.goh.co.uk