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Awful Auntie Review: Richmond Theatre
Awful Auntie: Second Adaptation of a David Walliams Novel to Stage
Can anything stop the march of David Walliams' assault on the children's book market? Not content at portraying the worst of secondary school life in the often hilarious Big School on TV, Walliams has found a knack of penning some more accessible kid material in print with Bad Dad the latest one to be published next week. Awful Auntie was the best selling children's book of 2014. But how does it translate to the stage?
There is previous form, with Gangsta Granny receiving good reviews on its West End debut last year, so writer Neal Foster was clearly looking to consolidate with a second take on the madcap larks that revolve around a family life that is anything but ordinary. In Awful Auntie, half the family is actually wiped out in a terrible "accident" that means the opening scene is one where 12 year-old Stella (played by twentysomething Georgina Leonidas) is lying in bed stricken in bandages as his Auntie Alberta recounts how mother and father were involved in a rather unfortunate road crash that has left them "dead".
Awful Auntie Hammed up to the Hilt
It soon becomes clear that the screeching Auntie, played as a madcap Tracey Ullman Camilla sketch by Timothy Speyer, is after the mansion and will stop at nothing to create another "accident" to dispose of her remaining relative. Stella has some moral, if not physical support by the ghost of Soot, a young chimney sweep, who is the Artful Dodger in physical deftness, climbing up the endless stairs of the Hall in an attempt to outwit the dastardly Alberta.
Set Design a Treat but Emotional Punch Lacking
Jacqueline Trousdale's set captures an Addams Family style ghoulishness, and Gibbon the butler (a great senile performance by Richard James) is suitably daft as he fetches and carries without ever really catching anything other than his own lost marbles. Wagner the Owl puppeteer Roberta Bellekom also desrves a mention in being the handler of what appears to be a real livewire owl.
But there is something missing. Perhaps it's a heart or soul, something that even the zaniest of stories still need. It s difficult to feel anything but silliness and sometimes that alone isn't quite enough. This ensures that potentially more touching moments, like the gradual disppearance of Soot from Stella's life when the dastardly Aunt meets her rightful end, does not hold the emotional resonance it could have.
Awful Auntie is good fun but without the empathy or laugh out loud moments that would sustain the two hours better.