Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, Wednesday 26th September, 2018
Birmingham Stage Company is back, following up the success of Gangsta Granny with a second alliterative title from comic actor-turned-children’s-author, David Walliams. Walliams appears to have appointed himself the successor to Roald Dahl and his work bears many similarities to Dahl’s classic novels for children. Chiefly, Walliams doesn’t sugar coat any aspect of his stories, populates the tales with grotesques, and places a wise child at the heart of them. Adaptor-director Neal Foster captures the Walliams spirit superbly well, rendering the action in imaginative, theatrical ways.
This one is a grim (Grimm) melodrama that is positively Victorian in its sensationalism. The titular aunt – Agatha Saxby – is monstrously cruel to her recently orphaned niece. The title deeds of rambling manor Saxby Hall are at stake. Richard James is enormous fun as this squawking villain, stomping around in plus fours and a ginger wig. His sidekick, Wagner, is an imposing owl – and a beautiful piece of puppetry performed by Roberta Bellekom.
Georgina Leonidas instantly gains our sympathy as plucky, long-suffering heroine, 12-year-old Stella, who finds an ally in the form of friendly ghost, Soot (the likeable Ashley Cousins) a chimney sweep’s boy who came to a sticky end on the job. The pair uncover the true extent of Auntie’s abominable activities as they clamber up and over Jacqueline Trousdale’s revolving set pieces. The gothic events are offset by the humorous appearances of dotty retainer, Gibbon, in a hilarious turn by Harry Sutherland.
Jak Poore’s original score adds to the urgency of the action and the melodramatic atmosphere of the whole. It may lack the warmth of Gangsta Granny, but there is plenty here to enjoy as Stella endures tribulation and trials, and Auntie gets her comeuppance in a satisfactory turn of events.
Darkly delicious with a generous helping of toilet humour and gross-out moments, Awful Auntie is awesome entertainment for the whole family.