Friday, 22 June 2018

Awful Auntie - The Opera House, Manchester

Following on from the successful stage adaptation of David Walliams’ Gangsta Granny, Horrible Histories’ writer Neal Foster has turned Awful Auntie – the biggest selling children’s book of 2014 into a marvelling stage adventure.

I have never read any David Walliams books least of all Awful Auntie but my 10 year old co-reviewer informed me I was in for an “orrible treat”, the auditorium was packed with eager children awaiting David Walliams seventh book adventures of the Saxby aristocrats’ tale.

The story based in 1933 revolves around an old English heritage abode Saxby House where Lady Stella Saxby (Georgina Leonidas) a 12 year-old girl awakes from a coma 3 days before her birthday wrapped in bandages from head to foot, She is quickly greeted by her absolutely awful Aunt Alberta (Timothy Speyer) who informs her she has been in the coma for 3 months. After insisting on a game of tiddlywinks Alberta casually announces the death of both Stella’s parents following a tragic car accident when they were on their way to London to see the bank manager in which Stella was a passenger and sole survivor.

Stella is quick to realise that this was a not-so-accidental car crash and that her truly awful, murderous and conniving Aunt does not have her best interests at heart, but is rather intent on inheriting the great Saxby Hall for herself and will do anything in her power accompanied by a Great Bavarian Mountain Owl called Wagner to find the deeds and have Stella sign them over to her to become the sole heir.
In her efforts to escape and bring her Aunt to justice she is caught by Alberta’s really rather violent and vicious pet owl Wagner (Roberta Bellekom) and thrown into the dark cold coal cellar seemingly alone and trapped. Like all villainous stories there’s a hero and Stella meets hers in the character Soot (Ashley Cousins) the ghost of a young orphan boy killed in the mansion house many years before whilst a chimney sweep and with his help they partner up as detective and escapees.

The set was the mastermind of Designer Jacqueline Trousdale’s with her four cylindrical towers that converted into every room you might imagine existing within the Saxby mansion; the towers were a magnificent and ingenious integral part of the show with it spinning staircases and endless secret passages that left you marvelling at her construction.
Alberta is undeniably the star of the show, and embodies what we know Walliams for best over the top characters with some fantastic scenes and dialogue. Timothy Speyer's performance as the awful Aunt Alberta managed to be intimidating without being too scary for any little ones in the audience and my little co-reviewer particularly enjoyed the scene where Alberta wakes to find her bedroom booby-trapped by Stella and Soot repeatedly slipping on marbles, washing her face with soap filled with boot polish, suffering 'splashback' when a clear glass sheet is placed under the toilet seat, exploding pipes and bubble bath toothpaste had her chuckling with delight.

Stella, played by Georgina Leonidas, was the perfect blend of innocence and mischief to keep us all rooting for her as she fights for her life against her devious and unscrupulous aunt.
Soot’s played by Ashley Cousins, brings warmth to the stage with his cheeky character and cockney phrases throughout such as ‘donkeys ears’, ‘dog and bone’ and making us all fell a little sad that he is actually 'brown bread'.

Richard James as the doddery ancient butler Gibbon brings humour to the story with his hilarious random entrances onto the stage, abstract conversations and confused scenes of bat catching and roasting slippers which went down a treat with the young audience.
Roberta Bellekom the puppeteer behind Wagner the huge owl and henchman of evil Alberta does a fantastic job of making sure the audience notices the bird and not her, displaying a tremendous and remarkable skill of puppetry.

Verdict: A terrific 2 hours of escapism for all the family to see which I would highly recommend to anyone whose has children or are young at heart themselves.
Reviewer - Katie Leicester
on - 20/6/18


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