Awful Auntie – Review – Bradford Alhambra Theatre

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By Christine Goode, May 2024

David Walliams, famed for televisions show such as Little Britain, Come Fly with Me and Britain’s Got Talent has now sold over 50 million copies of his children’s books. It seems that anything he creates, no matter how wacky, is a hit. The stage adaptation of his book Awful Auntie by The Birmingham Stage Company, who are best known for their productions of Horrible Histories, is currently on tour, bringing all of Walliams’ crazy characters to life at Bradford Alhambra.

As a fan of Walliams’ TV work, I must admint to have somehow missed most of his children’s books, only catching his earliest works with my youngest (now adult) child. However, I felt compelled to explore his seventh book, Awful Auntie, before I saw the stage production. I was hooked! and listened via audiobook avidly from start to finish in one afternoon!

In case you are like me, the story is set in December 1933. We meet Stella Saxby, a rich privileged girl, and only child of Lord and Lady Saxby, who have died in a tragic car accident. In the wake of the tragedy, Stella’s ‘Awful Auntie’ Alberta launches a plot to trick Stella out of her inheritance. Stella also encounters a ghost named Soot. They soon become friends and decide to give Awful Alberta a hard time. The plot thickens fast as we follow the two friends on a thrilling, often surprising, adventure.

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“Finishing touch”

We all know that you can lose yourself in a good book and let your imagination go wild, so I was intrigued to see how some of Awful Auntie‘s more imaginative scenes were going to play out on stage. We were not disappointed! With clever use of puppets and specially-sized props and scenery, actors became puppeteers allowing Walliams’ complete story to come alive.

An impressive set design by Jacqueline Trousdale, with an enormous revolving mansion (Saxby Hall), allows the characters to move around with ease, keeping the flow of the story slick and allowing the youngest of viewers to follow. From the grandeur of Lord Saxby’s study to the depths of the cold dirty coal cellar, the music composed by Jak Poore adds the finishing touch to the overall production.

Stella Saxby, played by Annie Cordoni, gives an impressive performance as the privileged only child of Lord and Lady Saxby. Her clipped English accent is believable as she meets and befriends Soot (the ghost of a chimney sweep) played by Matthew Allen. He gives a fine comedic performance as a young cockney scallywag. Their friendship is endearing as they try to foil Stella’s Awful Auntie Alberta, played by Neal Foster. Foster not only gives a hilarious and energetic performance as Alberta, often echoing Roald Dahl’s Miss Trunchbull from Matilda, but he also adapted the book for the stage production, being founder and manager of The Birmingham Stage Company.

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Gibbon, the ageing and hapless butler played by Zain Abrahams, offers light relief and is a joy to watch as he comes blithering on to stage with the audience wondering what he will get up to next. Emily Essery shows her expertise as she puppeteers Wagner, the pet owl of Aunt Alberta, as it swoops over the audience. Indeed, at times she manages two puppets at once!

There is something for the whole family throughout the evening, from stinky toilet humour (which has the kids laughing hysterically) to adult references to the film The Shining. It was lovely to see so many young children enjoying a special treat to the theatre with their families, many of them armed with a souvenir book or programme as a special memento of this very funny and entertaining show.

Awful Auntie is at Bradford Alhambra, 23 – 25 May 2024
images: Mark Douet


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