Theatre Review: AWFUL AUNTIE – Opera House, Manchester

Inventive and lighthearted, AWFUL AUNTIE has the little ones giggling right from the very start

In this David Walliam’s book-turned-stage play, 12-year-old Stella finds herself waking up from a coma as an orphan and under the care of her Aunt Alberta who is far from nice. In a crazy series of events, Stella befriends the ghost of the house, Soot, and tries to escape from the clutches of her evil Aunt, who she discovers is to blame for the death of her parents, and her Bavarian owl, Wagner.

Aimed at a younger audience, this lighthearted comedy-mystery has you giggling from the very start. Inspired by his hero Roald Dahl, David Walliams along with Neal Foster, the adapter and director of the show, conjures up what tends to be a very ‘Matilda-esque’ type show.

Aunt Alberta, a high pitched, opera singing owl fanatic, played by a man, Timothy Speyer, has the likeness of an evil and scary looking ‘Mrs Trunchbull’. A red wig and green tartan suit make up this AWFUL AUNTIE while she struts around on stage dictating and torturing her niece into signing over the deeds to the family’s stately home, Saxby Hall – the unfortunate issue being that only Stella knows the whereabouts of the deeds, somewhere Aunt Alberta would never look!

The now Lady of the House, Stella Saxby, played by Georgina Leonidas, brings a youthful yet determined innocence to the stage as she tries to escape from the household in her white pyjamas. Upon being locked in the dark and dingy cellar, she befriends the houses spritely ghost, Soot, played by Ashley Cousins.

The two create a bond and become real-life detectives causing havoc around the house, which designer Jacqueline Trousdale has cleverly created with a series of four moveable cylindrical towers. Each tower having a different room, stairwell or door entrance to it which become a playground for the two as they discover clues as to what really happened to Stella’s parents and ambush the dreaded Aunt Alberta and her Owl Wagner, who is played by Roberta Bellekom.

However, their adventures in revealing the truth become a little bit monotonous at times and the actors’ attempts to build up the tension and keep the suspense don’t always work. Regardless, the stage is often broken into laughter by the bat-crazy and confused old butler Gibbon, Richard James, whose actions range from vacuuming the carpets with a lawn mower to pouring cups of tea from dangerously high heights. His lanky body, electrified looking hair and gangly walk definitely creates a break in the plot which doesn’t always follow through.

The play ends with quite an exhilarating car chase, followed by a somewhat gruesome electrifying owl cage and a rooftop chase. This has the younger audience entranced and in stitches of giggles, laughing at the misfortunes of the electrocuted ‘Stella-Wella’. All in all, however, the play was a little rushed at times, losing the empathy, emotions and magic that could have been emphasized a lot more. This is not to say it wasn’t enjoyable, especially for its target audience and is definitely worth an evening out.

3.5 out of 5 stars

AWFUL AUNTIE runs at Manchester’s Opera House until 24 June 2018.