Awful Auntie review at Richmond Theatre, London – ‘madcap and inventive’

Timothy Speyer in Awful Auntie at Richmond Theatre, London Timothy Speyer in Awful Auntie at Richmond Theatre, London

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 madcap stage adventure.

Lady Stella Saxby is a 12 year-old girl who awakes from a coma to find herself an orphan at the mercy of a crazed relative. In her efforts to escape and bring her Aunt Alberta to justice, she is assisted by the ghost of a chimney sweep and a Bavarian owl named Wagner.

Walliams brings to life the energy and innocence of Stella, while negotiating the grotesque horrors that the child faces at the hands of her aunt. As with Miss Trunchbull in the stage version of Matilda, Aunt Alberta is played a man – in this case a gleeful Timothy Speyer in a red wig and breeches. Speyer’s Aunt Alberta is a St Trinian’s gargoyle, but she is no match for Georgina Leonidas’ determined Stella, who overcomes some pretty hairy scrapes with the help of Ashley Cousins’ cheery cockney sweep Soot.

Designer Jacqueline Trousdale’s set consists of a series of towering moveable cylinders, that represent the turrets of Saxby Hall. The stakes are further raised by an onstage car chase. But though imaginatively designed, Foster’s touring production for Birmingham Stage Company is oddly unemotional and the mawkish moral about class at the end seems out of place.

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Inventive, if not particularly emotionally engaging, adaptation of David Walliams’ popular children's book