Family Friendly Theatre: Review of David Walliams' Awful Auntie

(AD - Press Tickets) We were recently invited to the lovely Richmond Theatre to watch the stage show of Awful Auntie. It is currently on tour around the UK before returning to London's New Wimbledon Theatre in November. The play is an adaptation of David Walliams so it's no surprise that it is a bizarre tale and very funny. There was plenty of farting, wee jokes, being fed by regurgitated owl food and other child friendly humour, but it wasn't so gruesome that I felt uncomfortable. 

Awful Auntie On Stage

Stella wrapped up in bandages in bed and her Awful Auntie Alberta
Awful Auntie Alberta and Stella, photo by Mark Douet

The Plot of Awful Auntie

When Lady Stella Saxby wakes up in bed unable to move she soon discovers that she was in an awful car accident that killed her parents. Luckily for Stella her Aunt Alberta has moved in to Saxby Hall to look after her so she doesn’t have to go to an orphanage. Or maybe not so lucky. As the play title suggests Auntie Alberta is quite simply awful. In fact she is only keeping Stella alive until she finds the deeds to the castle and she can get her to sign them over.

The only reason Stella can't move is that she has been completely wrapped up in bandages and after 3 months in bed she is completely healthy so she tries to escape. Unfortunately Auntie Alberta and her pet owl Wagner catch Stella and lock her away. The 12 year old is all alone and scared, but soon befriends a ghost “Soot” who helps her uncover the truth about her parent's death and they plot revenge against her Awful Auntie.

There is also an easy to miss deeper thread that runs through the play about how children grow up and stop believing in magic. Soot the ghost can’t be seen by Auntie Alberta because adults don’t believe in ghosts, in fact he explains that children can only see ghosts until they turn 13. Stella is just a few days away from this milestone age. This point hit me a little harder than some I would guess as I was sitting next to my 12 year old daughter who is very much on the cusp of shaking off her childhood.

An owl puppet and a man dressed as Auntie Alberta next to a trolley cart full of desserts
Plenty of treats for Auntie Alberta and Wagner (photos by Mark Douet)

Review of Awful Auntie On Stage

This is a very funny play with humour that will appeal to all ages in the audience. You will be laughing out loud thanks to wordplay and comically exaggerated performances. It doesn't matter if you have previously read the book. My eldest has read Awful Auntie, but my other daughter and I haven't and we all found it laugh out loud funny. As we were lucky enough to attend on Press Night and were sitting a few metres away from David Walliams I can confirm that even if you are very very familiar with the book (to the extent you wrote it), you will still find the play funny.

The set is carefully designed to be minimal and easy to transform between scenes yet it still packs in a surprising number of features. Two rotating blocks were some how: a bedroom, the cellar, the roof, the garage, the library, the garden and more. 

In addition to the brilliant acting and creative set I loved the use of puppetry. Not just for the obvious use with Wagner the owl, but also the mini versions of the other characters in scenes based outside to allow a greater use of space. 

The run time is roughly 2 hours (including interval) with a first half of 45 minutes and second of 55 which makes it long enough to feel like a full evening out, but not so long it is a struggle for the younger members of the audience (recommended for age 5 plus). 

The pace was fast enough to keep my easily distracted 8 year old focused. Even the scene changes were smooth and entertaining thanks to Gibbon, the rather mad old butler whose prime role in the play appears to be humour between scenes including mowing the carpet. 

About Awful Auntie On Stage

Awful Auntie is produced by the Birmingham Stage Company. We have previously seen their production of David Walliams' Gangsta Granny which received an Olivier Award nomination. It is due to make a return to the stage in 2025, you can read my review here. 

Awful Auntie is adapted and directed by Neal Foster. A very talented man who is also starring as the lead character of Auntie Alberta. A larger than life, ridiculous character he performs hilariously. There were strong comedy performances from the supporting cast of Annie Cordoni (Stella) and Zain Abrahams (Gibbon). Matthew Allen has a challenging character that lacks the larger than life quirks of the others, but still made a strong impact. Emily Essery as Wagner the Owl manages to give plenty of personality and performance to the owl puppets and herself as it's shadow, to the extent that she almost disappears and the bird came to life.

Awful Auntie is touring theatres across the country until 10th November:

  • 23 May 24 to 25 May 24 The Alhambra Theatre, Bradford
  • 29 May 24 to 02 Jun 24 Cambridge Arts Theatre
  • 06 Jun 24 to 09 Jun 24 King's Theatre, Glasgow
  • 13 Jun 24 to 16 Jun 24 Liverpool Empire
  • 20 Jun 24 to 23 Jun 24 Theatre Royal Nottingham
  • 27 Jun 24 to 30 Jun 24 Hall for Cornwall, Truro
  • 04 Jul 24 to 06 Jul 24 New Victoria Theatre, Woking
  • 11 Jul 24 to 14 Jul 24 Darlington Hippodrome
  • 18 Jul 24 to 21 Jul 24 Hull New Theatre
  • 25 Jul 24 to 27 Jul 24 Everyman Theatre, Cheltenham
  • 12 Sep 24 to 15 Sep 24 Gaiety Theatre, Dublin
  • 19 Sep 24 to 22 Sep 24 Waterside Theatre, Aylesbury
  • 26 Sep 24 to 29 Sep 24 Grand Opera House York
  • 3 Oct 24 to 5 Oct 24 Stoke Regent Theatre
  • 10 Oct 24 to 12 Oct 24 Theatre Royal, Brighton
  • 17 Oct 24 to 19 Oct 24 The Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham
  • 24 Oct 24 to 27 Oct 24 Floral Pavilion, New Brighton, Wirral
  • 31 Oct 24 to 02 Nov 24 Milton Keynes Theatre
  • 07 Nov 24 to 10 Nov 24 New Wimbledon Theatre

You can find more information and booking details here.

Disclosure: we were invited to the Press Night of Awful Auntie at Richmond Theatre. Images are used with permission.

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