Theatre Review: Awful Auntie, Bloomsbury Theatre

PUBLISHED: 15:21 17 December 2018

Richard James as Aunt Alberta in Awful Auntie

Richard James as Aunt Alberta in Awful Auntie

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Birmingham Stage Company offers a well-realised pacy stage adaptation of David Walliams’ thriller about a young heiress and her murderous aunt

It seems every Christmas brings another festive TV adaptation of one of David Walliams’ popular children’s books.

With their larger than life comic characters, pacy plots and put-upon child heroes, they are not only ripe for screen drama – but as children’s theatre specialists Birmingham Stage Company have proved with the Olivier-nominated Gangsta Granny - also work brilliantly as theatre.

Here, adapter/director Neal Foster’s tautly-staged thriller about heiress Stella Saxby and her murderous Aunt Alberta opens with a Pathe-style newsreel that sets the 30s-era story in an English stately home.

There’s lashings of jeopardy as Stella awakes from a coma to discover her parents are dead and her aunt is keeping her prisoner until the deeds to Saxby Hall can be tracked down.

Palling up with the ghost of murdered chimney sweep Soot, the plucky youngster uses ingenuity and the mansion’s secret passages to work out how her mum and dad perished in a car crash, and summon the Police.

It turns out though she’s going to have to save herself, as her dastardly relative abetted by a vicious owl called Wagner tries to throw her off the roof and drown her in the icy lake.

Designer Jackie Trousdale’s versatile quartet of revolving turrets ingeniously conjure the Hall’s interiors, from coalholes to rooftops, libraries to dungeons.

And Foster keeps things thrumming along with the help of some slick puppetry and quick comic interludes with family factotum Gibbon, who occupies a completely altered reality to everyone else.

The scene where Georgina Leonidas’ feisty Stella plays tricks on her grisly Aunt owes a whopping debt to Roald Dahl’s Miss Trunchbull in Matilda, but is no less enjoyable for its daylight robbery.

Leonidas has a nice rapport with Ashley Cousins’ affecting spook, who turns out to have some intriguing origins of his own.

And Richard James is a suitably gorgonesque auntie. The audience, including a superfan next to me kitted out in full Aunt Alberta fig were held spellbound by this classy slice of children’s theatre in the newly refurbished Bloomsbury Theatre.

4/5

Until January 5.

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