For anyone who enjoyed Gangsta Granny, Awful Auntie is a decent follow-up adaptation of David Walliams’ popular series of children’s books. The premise of the show is pretty simple. Stella (Georgina Leonidas) wakes up to find that her parents have disappeared. According to her Aunt Alberta (Timothy Speyer), they have died in a car crash. But as things unfold, it appears that her Aunt might not be telling the truth. With the help of her ghostly friend Soot (Ashley Cousins), Stella plots to make her escape and find out what’s really going on.
Awful Auntie sees less action and a more dialogue-driven narrative when compared to its predecessor. During the first few minutes, it seems that this is going to prove problematic. In order to set the scene, both Leonidas and Speyer engage in a lot of back-and-forth dialogue, with little movement from either of them. Although helpful to our understanding, it is not very entertaining. However, once we get past this initial phase, my concerns were alleviated. This was largely due to the return of the revolving scenery that was so terrifically inventive in Gangsta Granny. It is no less creative here, turning the confines of Saxby Manor House, where all of the action is set, into a magical place of adventure. Constantly evolving and truly dynamic, the set is without doubt the best thing about the show. It is a character in its own right, and is a joy to behold.
Leonidas brings a delightful innocence to her role as Stella. She manages to do so without compromising on the strong and assured personality of her female protagonist. Her partnership with Cousins, in the role of Soot, is a joy to watch. The two of them work really well together, creating a convincing and very likable partnership. Cousins oozes a childlikeness which comes about from both his high-pitched voice and flaccid physical movement. Whilst the twenty-something actor failed to play a boy half his age convincingly in Gangsta Granny, here, he fully resembles a young lad of around 12. His character is charming and utterly adorable. The two of them together make a fine team against Stella’s awful Auntie. And awful is perhaps the most apt word, for Speyer’s portrayal of the character fails to exude any psychopathic tendencies. He is more pantomime dame than evil woman. I don’t really understand why a male has to occupy this female role? In the same way as a male actor has been consistently cast as Miss Trunchbull in Matilda: The Musical, what is it about these characters that make directors so averse to casting actual females as them? Can only a man play a crazed older woman? In this instance, I don’t think Speyer plays one particularly well.
Overall, Awful Auntie is a lightly enjoyable show. It is pitched perfectly in the middle so as to keep its young audience entertained whilst giving parents and guardians time to sit back and appreciate the set design and camaraderie of Leonidas and Cousins. It may not be laugh-out-loud funny but it does have enough moments to make you smile. Richard James as the butler Gibbon offers some delightful moments of oddity which may be understated but add much to the show’s comic potential. Like Gangsta Granny, it is the set that is the star of the show though. Its constant unfolding of movement is truly magical. I love it.
Awful Auntie may not be the most life-changing production you’ll ever see, but as an evening out with the family, you can’t really go wrong.
Written as part of the Young Critics North Wales scheme.
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Featured Image (C) Venue Cymru