The New Brighton Floral Pavilion
March 21 – March 24
Auhtor: David Walliams
Director: Neal Foster
Producer: The Birmingham Stage Company
REVIEWER: Miranda Humphreys-Green
David Walliams seems to be working his way through the family tree with his series of children’s books – Gangsta Granny, Grandpa’s Great Escape and Awful Auntie, an engaging thriller cum ghost story set in the 30s, currently in residence at New Brighton’s Floral Pavilion, directed by Neal Foster.
Stella Saxby awakes after a terrible accident, having apparently broken every bone in her body, to find herself an orphan. Aunt Alberta, accompanied by her Bavarian owl Wagner (a beautiful puppet operated by Roberta Bellekom), is in attendance but does she really have Stella’s best interests at heart? Or is she just out to bag herself the listed Saxby Hall that she believes ought to be hers anyway?
Finding herself a prisoner in her own home, Stella teams up with an unlikely ally – Soot, the ghost of a young chimney sweep. Together they attempt to outwit the awful Alberta (a falsetto-voiced Timothy Speyer in drag) and her murderous intentions. But time is running out because when Stella turns 13, her ability to see and hear Soot will vanish. They have just 3 days left…
Like Granny, Awful Auntie has a number of lessons for us, and not just along the lines of “thou shalt not kill.” Walliams posits the notion that growing up robs us of our ability to engage with the wonderful, as Soot becomes invisible to Stella when she reaches teenagerdom.
At the other end of the spectrum, we see old retainer Gibbon, a wild-haired Richard James, in his second childhood walking the leopard-skin rug and pouring tea into a vase. Clearly suffering from dementia, Stella, and her father before her, treasure him for his past contributions.
And then there’s Alberta. She may well be awful but does Walliams have something to say about primogeniture?
Georgina Leonidas’ Stella is the picture of innocence and exuberance, touched with a little pathos. Exactly as befits a girl with one toe into adolescence but who is essentially still a child. But it is actually the set which is the star of this show.
If you saw Gangsta Granny, also staged by The Birmingham Stage Company, you’d think the design looked familiar. And why not? It worked then as it does now. The challenge for set designer Jacqueline Trousdale, was to create the many rooms and grounds of a mansion on the one stage. To this end, a series of ingeniously multifaceted rotating towers spin about as the action moves from library to coal cellar via the chimney stack.
It really is very clever.
And when the chase moves outside into the large grounds, the characters become represented by puppets. I was waxing lyrical about how this gives the effect of looking down on the protagonists from an upper floor of the house. It took my 11 year old daughter to point out that how else were they going to be able to effect a large child being snatched up by an owl!
Perhaps not quite as funny as some of Walliams’ other works, Awful Auntie is nonetheless a great adventure yarn with some issues to think about woven through.
So, what next for Walliams? Unctuous Uncle? Saucy Sister? Hmm, scrap that. Wrong audience. But whichever Walliams’ work is next adapted for stage, let’s hope it’s by The Birmingham Stage Company with Neal Foster at the wheel.
Awful Auntie is at The New Brighton Floral Pavilion until Saturday March 24, 2018.
For Tickets Click HERE
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