Awful Auntie at the Royal & Derngate Northampton Review

10-14 April 2018

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Reviewed by Nela Nyczka

Awful Auntie: Live on Stage by David Walliams, as adapted and directed by Neal Foster.

Upon entering the Royal and Derngate theatre in Northampton, we felt warmly welcomed into this theatre by staff and were transported into the year of 1933 as we came into the auditorium. The theatre had a calm ambiance but was undeniably filled with children especially eagerly awaiting the next fulfilment of David Walliams’ work following his phenomenal success as a children’s author. On reading the book myself, (which I also greatly recommend!) I was initially apprehensive as to what to expect, knowing that the story was centred around only a handful of characters set entirely within the mansion of Saxby House over the period of just a few days. However, I was surprised how this was translated so creatively with smooth and innovative transitions on stage, which retold the story brilliantly.

The play began by introducing us to the two protagonists. The first, Lady Stella Saxby (played by Georgina Leonidas), a 12-year-old girl who had just awoken from a coma to alarmingly discover herself wrapped from head to toe in bandages due to every bone in her body being broken! The second being Awful Aunt Alberta (played by the lively Timothy Speyer), who was, from then, had put herself in charge of Saxby House following the tragic, yet mysterious death of Stella’s parents who were fatally killed in a car accident. We were quickly confronted with how awful just Alberta was and how it was evident, that she just wanted unwilling Stella to sign over the deeds of the house by any means possible, even if this meant locking her up and impersonating a sneaky detective to fool her! (Played by Peter Mistyyoph).

Awful Auntie by Birmingham Stage Company.
Photo by Mark Douet

You join Stella on her desperate journey of attempting to do what she can to escape the prison of Saxby House, Alberta and her aunt’s persistent and slightly frightening owl Wagner (played by the puppeteer Roberta Bellekom). Attending this with my daughter, we were both engaged throughout her run ins with Aunt Alberta, rooting for Stella! To aid her, throughout the play we were introduced to Soot (played by Ashley Cousins) who roamed the chimneys of Saxby as a ghost who was once trapped whilst working in the mansion and now played tricks on Stella’s Awful Auntie! The two then worked together to face Alberta for the final time playing some hilarious tricks on her!

Visually, the play was exciting and engaging allowing you to move through the story and rooms of the mansion with ease, especially due to the imaginative set itself. At a particular point, all of the characters turned into puppets as handled by the actors themselves which I thought worked really well to demonstrate tricky scenes. It was evident that Walliams’ humour and wit had been woven throughout the play, which was particularly echoed through the role of Gibbon, Saxby house’s own forgetful butler (played by Richard James). The play was funny and flamboyant making it brilliant for children (largely aimed at 5+) and adults. I thought Timothy Speyer particularly played his role of Aunt Alberta with such energy and passion, which really brought the performance to life! My only real criticism was that considering the target audience, the initial first act was based on one scene, which consisted of quite a long period of purely dialogue where I found myself struggling to keep engaged until the scene eventually moved on and it became clearer what was going on. However, despite this, the play really did deliver, and I was impressed with the overall performance. To continue Stella’s story there was also the opportunity given to visit the Birmingham Stage Company online to uncover the next part of her journey by Walliams himself, which I overheard quite a few children eager to see as we were leaving the theatre!

Awful Auntie by Birmingham Stage Company.
Photo by Mark Douet

The theatre itself was easy to find with a great multi storey car park for just £1 in the evening parking just minutes away from the Derngate. The theatre was clean with a large number of toilets (so minimal queuing!) and the staff were more than polite and welcoming which made it a very enjoyable experience. There was also a range of Walliams’ books on offer as merchandise. I would return to the Royal and Derngate and would happily recommend Awful Auntie especially to fans of David Walliams books, as they will not be disappointed! Tickets cost from £15 to £19 (with a £3 booking fee) and the performance lasted approximately 2 hours including the interval.

Rating: 4/5

Tickets cost from £15 to £19 (bookings fees may apply).

Awful Auntie is at the Royal& Derngate in Northampton from 10-14 April 2018, for more information or to book tickets visit www.royalandderngate.co.uk or call the box office on 01604 624811.

Royal & Derngate, Guildhall Road, Northampton, NN1 1DP | 01604 624811

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