Reviewed by Louise Watts
David Walliams is a man of many talents, but few would have expected him to become one of the most successful children’s authors of this generation. Some have even compared him to Roald Dahl, which must be the biggest compliment he could receive!
Awful Auntie is the 7th book written by Walliams and was first published in September 2014. Following the success of his earlier book Gangsta Granny being adapted for stage, Awful Auntie was also adapted and started touring in March 2017.
I attended the Orchard Theatre in Dartford this evening (7 February 2018) with my 9-year-old daughter, who is a huge David Walliams fan, for the opening night of Awful Auntie. Having seen Gangsta Granny on stage last year, we had high expectations for the evening and could not wait for it to start.
The story is set in the 1930’s and revolves around a young girl called Stella Saxby who wakes up one day to discover that she has been in a coma for three months and has no recollection of what happened. She discovers in a rather brutal manner from her Aunt Alberta that she was involved in a car crash with her parents, Lord and Lady Saxby who sadly died. The question is can Aunt Alberta be trusted to tell the truth or is she telling porky pies?
Stella soon becomes aware that her Aunt is someone she should fear. She is no normal Auntie, seriously lacking in sympathy and morals and will do whatever it takes to get Stella’s inheritance. With the help of her enormous owl Wagner who she has raised since she hatched and a rather comical elderly butler Gibbon, Aunt Alberta is one scary lady! Can Stella get to the bottom of really happened and find out the truth?
Timothy Speyer plays Aunt Alberta and I have to admit she is probably one of the funniest characters I have seen in a long time. Her grasp of the English language and her spelling are second to none, but she likes to cause a little “trubl”! His performance was exceptional, and he had me in fits of laughter, particularly when seated on the throne.
Stella Saxby is played by Georgina Leonidas who is treated very badly by her Awful Auntie but finds an ally in Soot the ghost, played by Ashley Cousins. We saw Ashley last year when he played Ben in the stage adaptation of Walliams book “Gangsta Granny”. He was outstanding then and his performance today was just as impressive. This boy has so much talent and a promising future ahead of him. Georgina has a string of previous appearances to her name and she was equally as good tonight. From the moment the show started she performed remarkably and has probably the most impressive scream I have ever heard! The combination of Stella and Soot together was nothing short of hilarious. I had no idea that by combining marbles, soot, glass, bubble bath, ants and gunpowder together in one scene, you could create a comedy masterpiece! The audience were in stitches and the adults were enjoying it as much as the kids!
Richard James who played Gibbon the elderly, rather forgetful, slightly eccentric butler was also in Gansta Granny but his role this time was rather different. He was absolutely brilliant and added a whole new comedy factor to the show. Every time he entered the stage you were guaranteed to have a laugh. The character is wonderful and so was his performance.
You may wonder how they managed to have an owl on stage. The answer is with the puppetry of Roberta Bellekom. She was the person behind Wagner’s incredible performance and made him very believable, you forgot that she was actually there at times.
The set was very simple in design to the Gansta Granny set and equally as clever with revolving columns capturing different areas of Saxby Hall. There were brilliantly designed and did the job simply but perfectly. It also meant there were no time consuming, distracting big set changes so the children were kept engaged.
The running time was a little under 2 hours including the interval which was just about right considering the age of the target audience, particularly on a school night.
The Orchard Theatre is a lovely venue. There is parking available in the shopping centre next door and the evening rate is a mere £3 which I think is a bargain considering how close it is to the theatre. I also discovered tonight that you can pay for the parking any time after 5.30pm so you can pay before going to the theatre therefore saving yourself from joining the long queue after the show finishes and the children are tired. There is always a warm welcome waiting for you on arrival and as you enter the foyer, there is a coffee shop, merchandise stand, sweet shop and a bar for any drinks and snacks which you may like to have before the show or during the interval at a reasonable price.
It was nice to see the auditorium so full of children watching this brilliant story come to life before their eyes. A real must see for any David Walliams fan. I cannot wait to see which of his stories they adapt for stage next. Whichever it is, I will definitely be going to see it!
Tickets cost from £19 to £24 (booking fees may apply).
Awful Auntie is at The Orchard Theatre in Dartford from 7-11 February 2018, for more information or to book tickets visit orchardtheatre.co.uk or call the box office on 01322 220000.
The Orchard Theatre, Home Gardens, Dartford, DA1 1ED | 01322 220000