I don’t think I could be more grateful to David Walliams. Not words I ever envisaged I would utter. As a children’s author, the only author to convince my daughter that reading books with chapters is a good thing, I am happy. So much so that her bookcase quickly housed every David Walliams book. Such was her appetite to read and my need to encourage this interest.
And fortunately, through Birmingham Stage, I am not only be grateful to David Walliams for nurturing my daughter’s love of reading, but also the theatre. I have yet to be forgiven for securing tickets for Gangsta Granny in Kids Week last year. The detail being this was after CM told me she wouldn’t be joining me and her brothers. But that’s detail.
But, of course, gaining some semblance of forgiveness by taking CM to see Awful Auntie as it reaches the New Theatre in Cardiff was essential.
I’ll be honest, I leave the children to read David Walliams’ books. I remember with so much joy being able to turn pages of Roald Dahl books with freedom of time and imagination, and from initially turning pages of David Walliams’ books I knew this was my children’s equivalent.
And so, arriving at the New Theatre I had no idea what was in store. David Walliams’ books do seem to follow a formula: some considerable trauma (which you probably have had no reason to discuss with your children until now) + a really courageous child who is able to make some good choices = a really positive message that you’re pleased your child is receiving on their terms. Awful Auntie is all of this.Awful Auntie tells Stella’s story. A young girl who wakes up, seemingly trapped in her bed. To be told by her auntie that every bone in her body is broken. Over a proposed game of tiddly-winks, Stella is casually told that her parents were killed in a car crash where she survived and has been in a coma for the past 6-months.
It transpires, Aunt Alberta is every bit awful, and of course- for us in the know- resonates with our recollection of Miss Trunchball.
Fortunately for Stella, she finds comraderie in ghost in the form of Soot. A chimney sweep seemingly far from equal as, of course, Stella is in fact Lady Saxby.
So in forming a friendship we are introduced to the differences in language and behaviour of this apparent class divide.Much needed humour in darker moments is provided in Gibbon, the ageing and lovable butler, confused and perceptive. Magic is brought to the stage version through puppetry and design.
Most evident in Roberta Bellekom’s control of Wagner, the puppet owl and Jacqueline Trousdale’s fantastic set. A number of revolving elements enables Neal Foster’s direction to flow across so many scenes and levels. Each one with a beautiful attention yet simplistic in enabling the scenes to move as fast as the action.
There is darkness in this story, in both Stella’s situation but also in the tale brought to stage. That watching Stella being electrocuted evokes humour. But this is both in the story telling of Walliams’ and in the balance brought to the stage. Fortunately in the traumatic scenes there is balance – in Richard James’s portrayal of Gibbon and the puppetry skills of Roberta Bellekom.
As we walked away from Awful Auntie my daughter was full of her favourite moments- Gibbon bowing in the wrong direction, Gibbon disagreeing and then saying the same thing he disagreed with, of ants in Auntie’s pants.
Fortunately, for now, good times prevail. The messages that, as a parent, you want your child to hear are all there… hopefully trickling into their psyche. But yes, the humour of Awful Auntie creates the memories. This is a fun story, full of the realities of life, but fun all the same.
Awful Auntie is at the New Theatre, Cardiff until Sunday 13th May with tickets available via the website. The nationwide tour continues to the end of the year, with tour dates available on the Birmingham Stage website.
Disclosure: We were invited to the performance for the purpose of this review. All opinions and words contained are our own.