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Awful Auntie on stage

Catch Awful Auntie in Sussex for family-friendly frights and fun

Being a not-so-awful-Auntie I took my nephews to see this latest David Walliam’s book adaptation – on at the Theatre Royal, Brighton until Sat 9 June.

The plot concerns Stella, heir to Saxby Hall, who wakes after months in a comma following a suspicious accident to find her Auntie plotting her demise – once she’s got her hands on the deeds to the house.

Photo by Mark-Douet

Stella must outwit her villainous relative and avoid Auntie’s scary owl accomplice (in puppet form), aided by a friendly chimney sweep ghost called Soot.

The production is by Birmingham Stage Company – the same people who brought Gangsta Granny to the stage – and the set is great fun, with Stella and Soot making their way round the house and dodging Auntie by climbing chimneys in four moveable towers.

We all loved amiable and batty butler Gibbon (played by Richard James) who mows the carpet, presents hot slippers as buttered crumpets and seasons a chicken with engine oil. My eight-year-old nephew did some impressions of him afterwards.

Photo by Mark-Douet

I also particularly enjoyed the detective with the troublesome moustache, who had my sister-in-law laughing like a drain. This part, and Auntie herself, is played brilliantly by Timothy Speyer, who hits just the right note between scary and comic. Intentional or not, Soot’s cockney accent meanwhile reminded me of Tommy Steele and I was surprised to discover the seemingly teenage boy is played by a 21-year-old.

There’s plenty of fun, not least via some practical jokes our heroes play on Auntie (let’s just say I’ll be double-checking the loo next time I’m at my nephews’ house!) and, of course, it wouldn’t be Walliams without a fart gag or two.

The second half is faster paced than the first with lots of ducking and diving and an escape sequence in a real moving car.

Photo by Mark-Douet

There are a lot of fun film references for grown-ups – I was reminded in places of Misery, Home Alone, The Shining and Titanic. In fact Walliams has said The Shining was his inspiration for the book.

I also found it surprisingly moving in places.

“I’m actually crying!” whispered by sister-in-law, “me too!” I sniffed, suddenly snotty-nosed at a scene where our two heroes have to part company (the boys happily continued rummaging their pick n’ mix)

Awful Auntie is a bit darker than Walliams’ other books and it may be a bit much for younger children (it starts with news of the death of Stella’s parents and includes electrocution effects, plus there are a few twists to follow) but I’d say it’s perfect for 7 – 12s and a great way of enthusing them about theatre.

Awful Auntie is at Theatre Royal, Brighton, Wed June 6 – Sat June 9 2018, with matinee and evening performances most days. Tickets are from £23.50.


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