David Walliams's Awful Aunt Arrives In Town!

Awful Auntie

Birmingham Stage Company

Theatre Severn

Wednesday 18th October… Saturday 21st October (Matinee Wednesday 18th)

If you are heading to see David Walliams’s, “Awful Auntie,” and you suspect it will be as much fun as his “Gangsta Granny,” which toured last year, sadly you may well be wrong.

Clearly as a children’s show it has to offer all the bells and whistles and embrace the new technology. However technology on stage can and does go wrong or fail. More of that later.

The narrative is set in a country mansion, Aunt Alberta (Timothy Speyer) is caring for her comatose Niece (Georgina Leonidas) and has her wrapped in bandages, she comes to only to discover that her parents were killed in a car crash months ago and Aunt has been caring for her. However Stella Saxby as she is called is the real heir to the Saxby Hall and the title of her Ladyship. However Stella supported by her ghost friend Soot (Ashley Cousins) turn the tables and the auntie meets her comeuppance.

Auntie Alberta is not without friends however as she has an owl known as Wagner,( Operator... Roberta Bellekom) he gets up to all sorts of mischief in the name of his owner but the path of justice and right prevails. The owl is a good idea but it does look a little moth-eaten. It was a puppet and its operator was clearly visible at all times. It is a deliberate device, used to amazing effect in Avenue Q (Theatre Severn 2015) however this didn’t seem to really work. The character of the Owl was not magical enough and stretched the imagination way too much. As a consequence it was difficult to forget its operator.

One character that makes no sense and is played as an imbecile was Gibbon the Butler (Richard James.) His madness was way too off the scale to be believed and any tension or belief the show might build up with the audience is broken by this rather foolish character. The question is where is the joke in that? Some people as they get older grow a little confused but, is that something we want to teach children to laugh at?

There is an unusual amount of arm waving and pointing to nothing in the middle distance. Gesture is a crucial part of building up a theatrical performance but when they gestures make no sense it clouds the water somewhat and leaves one wondering what were the semiotics behind these strange gestures. There could be several reasons; even so they need to mean something. One cannot just point into the auditorium and have no sense of purpose its confusing.

Costume was interesting, Auntie wore an over the top ensemble, obviously she would! Greens, tartans and ginger hair is an alarming mix but it was funny. Soot , when alive must have been the greatest Chimney Sweep’s boy in the whole of the country because even though he had worked up chimneys and now haunted one, the lack of soot on the boy's face and clothes was obvious.

The set is brilliant, so cleverly designed and a joy to watch in action. If you can imagine the acting area almost oblong in shape in each corner is a circular tower. These towers turn and show different rooms or aspects of the mansion. If you are fascinated and flummoxed as to how these were working you wouldn’t be alone. The actors enter through it and climb all over it yet it is so incredibly sturdy. It is an incredible set.

 However and one’s heart goes out to the cast and crew today, being the first day of performance in Theatre Severn the set failed. Some cables under the set stopped working and as it was all programmed into a computer to match the action. The show is very heavily reliant on this being there constantly and always working. It’s a case of one error and for whatever reason a cue is missed  the scenery would no longer match the show.

The company receives great sympathy from this critic and an understanding that gremlins always plague an opening performance of anything. One can be certain that the problem will not present itself again in this run: because until the point of breakdown it was a brilliant and wonderfully designed piece of kit.

Awful Auntie plays all week until Saturday it is fun for children and when you see a full auditorium of the little cherubs rapt in what is happening on the stage one realises that theatre speaks to us all. Long so it should!

This is a Three Star Review

Owen J Lewis

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Owen Lewis Owen Lewis

Owen Lewis was born fifty something years ago in the land of the black puddings. For the geographically challenged that is in Lancashire. Moving to Shropshire From 1970 Owen was brought up in Church Stretton. His first real job was in radio. After starting on BBC Radio Shropshire he became known on Marcher Sound, broadcasting throughout the North West for several years. After a university degree course in Theatre, Owen became an actor and went on to play "Pirate Bill" in The Alton Towers Hotel. He also made several television appearances. Returning to university he took his PGCE enabling him to teach. That saw him on the Essex coast as a drama teacher and latterly as a Creative Educational Liaison Officer making films and creating new teaching methods to employ on children in need of more help in their fundamental learning skills. Published playwright Owen ultimately wants a house boat in Amsterdam to focus on his work as Playwright and Poet.

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