reviewed at the Regent Theatre, Ipswich on 19 September
Ghost legend? Morality tale? Horror story? All and any of these for a young audience? It was to be David Walliams’ Awful Auntie. The title character really does live up to her name as she tries to take over the ancestral home from its rightful owner.
Neal Foster’s stage adaptation doesn’t try to simplify the issues involved. Young Lady Stella Saxby wakes from an induced coma to find her parents dead and her father’s sister Alberta trying just a little too obviously to obtain the deeds to the family estate – we’re in the 1930s, by the way.
Doors creak, Alberta’s tame Bavarian owl Wagner menaces, there’s an elderly butler Gibbon straight out of Dracula and a 19th century chimney-sweep materialises in the coal store.
Set and costume designer Jacqueline Trousdale, sound designer Nick Sagar, special effects designer Scott Penrose and puppet maker Sue Dacre make sure that we’re caught up in the drama.
The setting is basically four towers which revolve to display various locations and their rabbit-warren of secrets. Visually it makes the actors work pretty hard to make their own impact, especially when Wagner ((Roberta Bellekom) and an enormously long (and lazy) dog are concerned.
Georgina Leonidas makes a sparkish heroine, every bit as obstinate as Richard James’ ferocity as Aunt Alberta. Harry Sutherland dodders engagingly as Gibbon, and Ashley Cousins’ Soot offers a sense of what his short life must have been like, passed from an orphanage to an inhumane master.
Touring shows, such as this Birmingham Stage Company one, have to adapt rapidly to the acoustics of the theatres they visit. For my taste, on the opening night in Ipswich, the actors were over-miked almost to the point of distortion.
This is a pity, because it’s one of those shows which give pleasure in many ways to the older members of the audience as well as to the youngsters.
Four star rating.
Awful Auntie runs at the Regent Theatre, Ipswich until 23 September with matinées on 22 and 23 September. It also plays at the Theatre Royal, Norwich between 8 and 10 November.