I’m just going to come out and say it, awful auntie is weird.
But I don’t think David Walliams would want it any other way.
For a children’s play, it’s quite dark, relatively moody and pretty dramatic- not in a scary way but more fantastical way. Ultimately that’s what makes this show special and why hundreds and thousands of children have fallen in love with the books, TV shows and now the theatrical versions of his stories.
Regardless of how you’ve come across David Walliams stuff before, even if it’s only seeing a book of his on a shelf, the similarities to Roald Dahl are striking and not just because of the famous Quentin Blake illustrations, but in the style and content of the words. This makes the production not just a hit for kids, but also a nice throwback for those who grew up with these stories. This production of Awful Auntie is a superb adaptation which keeps all of that authentic charm.
This particular story tackles a lot of adult issues and almost feels like an old school whodunit; confronting issues or death, murder and orphanages without coming across as scary or intimidating. The frequent references to Sherlock Holmes and the period drama nature of the story helps to illustrate to kids a view into a more traditional style of storytelling not really told as often anymore.
It’s also a testament to the amazing cast that the whole 2 hours were performed by just 5 people who are amazingly talented and clearly know how to entertain and educate younger audiences without patronising them.
Timothy Speyer as the Auntie was sinisterly evil so much so that even though I had the urge to boo, I didn’t. That’s part of the beauty of the show, I don’t think there would have been any issue with being massively interactive, but our particular audience found themselves too drawn in to the narrative for this to become a pantomime.
Everybody loved Gibbons (portrayed by Richard James) who’s slapstick comedy gave light in the darkest of moments and provided a nice transition between many scenes whilst adjusting the set or drawing your attention away whilst parts of the four pillars which made up Saxby Hall were moved.
There was an amazing use of effects and stage design which allowed the genuine illusion of a grand hall, be it chimneys, large bodies of water, vehicle chases or the fantastic use of puppetry to create a convincing foot race across the Saxby Estate, which included of course, the amazing Wagner the owl masterfully controlled by Roberta Bellekom.
The whole show was tied together by the chemistry between Stella (Georgina Leonidas) and Soot (Ashley Cousins). They acted as narrators and were very much the straight characters to those eccentrics around them. Their Disney like relationship with each other and the children in the audience meant everyone felt engaged throughout, and teaching the Cockney rhyming slang was another nice touch throughout.
There is no doubt Awful Auntie is “Silly willy woo”, but ultimately that’s the point. For a family fun night out, you won’t find much else that will connect the generations in such an effective way.
Awful Auntie is currently at the Bristol Hippodrome until Sunday 6th of May before it continues its tour around the country.