An Awfully good show! Awful Auntie, New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham – Review
Every generation has a character from a favourite childhood book ingrained in its collective brain - from Enid Blyton's folk of the Faraway Tree to Jacqueline Wilson's Tracy Beaker.
And when in a couple of decades or more a new generation of adults look back with fondness at the characters from their own childhood, you can bet the majority of them will have come from David Walliams' bizarre but wonderful imagination.
Mr Stink and Gangsta Granny have already wormed their way in and now Awful Auntie will too, especially after being brought to life so spectacularly in all her monstrous glory on the stage of the New Alexandra Theatre in Birmingham.
The plotline of the book is simple, but just far-fetched and fantastical enough to capture and keep the interest of Walliams' army of young fans.
We are told the story of Stella Saxby, a young girl left in a coma after a car crash that kills her aristocratic parents. She wakes months later in the care of her evil Aunt Alberta, who pretends she has her niece's best interests at heart but really is hellbent on getting the family's stately home for herself.
Her evil plan unravels, due to a bit of detective work by young Stella and her ghost pal Soot, but not before we are treated to a few pranks, a car chase, a giant puppet owl and plenty of belly laughs along the way.
Walliams' book has been adapted for stage by the Birmingham Stage Company, who brought us the hugely successful Gangsta Granny. Once again they have kept true to the book and met the challenges of bringing the larger than life characters - including giant owl Wagner - to life with huge success.
Stella is played by Georgina Leonidas, who has the perfect blend of innocence and mischief to keep us all rooting for her as she fights for her life against her dastardly aunt.
Ashley Cousins plays Soot, the ghost of a young boy killed in the mansion house many years before - there's a twist in that tale, but I won't spoil it if you don't know the story. His cheeky Cockney chimney sweep is a wonderful character, offsetting 'posho' Stella perfectly and making us all a little sad that he is actually 'brown bread', as he keeps reminding us.
Richard James as the doddery ancient butler Gibbon is hilarious, making his random entrances onto the stage, bringing confusion and a touch of farce which went down a treat with the audience.
And 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.
But the star of the show is without a doubt Timothy Speyer who plays the eponymous auntie with clear enjoyment and such monstrous glee that the young members of the audience can't keep their eyes off him.
There are a few little moments for the adults - the point when Alberta breaks a hole in the front door to get to her niece and pokes her face through with a maniacal grin, shouting 'here's auntie' brought a specially loud laugh from the mums and dads in the crowd. And the scene where she wakes to find her bedroom booby-trapped by Stella and Soot, repeatedly slipping on marbles, washing her face with soap filled with boot polish and suffering 'splashback' when a clear glass sheet is placed under the toilet seat was a masterclass in physical comedy.
As with all Walliams' books there is an underlying message. Here it comes as Soot begs Stella, who is about to become a teenager, to make sure she still carries on seeing the magic in everything as she did as a child. It's sentimental, but done with enough humour and a light enough touch to avoid it becoming sickly sweet or too serious.
An Awfully good production for all the family. Catch it if you can. Runs until Sunday November 26.