A cross-dress­ing star, a splash of slap­stick – and lat­u­lence gags ga­lore. Yes, it’s a new David Wal­liams show...

The Mail on Sunday - Event - - THEATRE - birm­ing­ham­stage.com Mark Cook

Af­ter the suc­cess of Gangsta Granny and his lat­est chil­dren’s book, Bad Dad (I guess we can look for­ward to Cranky Cousin and Unat­trac­tive Un­cle), David Wal­liams’s Aw­ful Aun­tie gets its stage pre­miere. The granny tale was partly in­spired by his own rel­a­tive, but even though he had three aun­ties, Wal­liams says not one of them was like Aunt Al­berta, an up­hol­stered vi­sion in lurid tweed with wild gin­ger hair. Just as well, as she has plans to de­prive her ‘posh’ niece Lady Stella – newly or­phaned and just out of a coma from an ac­ci­dent that killed her par­ents – of her in­her­i­tance by snag­ging the im­pos­ing Saxby Hall for her­self, aided by a gi­ant owl called Wag­ner (cour­tesy of pup­peteer Roberta Bellekom) and a scary elec­tri­fied cage (for chil­dren!).

Twelve-year-old Stella, gamely played by Ge­orgina Leonidas, turns de­tec­tive to learn more about her par­ents’ death and foil Al­berta’s das­tardly scheme with the help of a cock­ney chim­neysweep ghost called Soot (Ash­ley Cousins, very sweet).

Jackie Trous­dale’s set has re­volv­ing tow­ers clev­erly evok­ing the labyrinthine Thir­ties man­sion for pur­suit scenes. As usual with Wal­liams, most of the young gig­gles come from fart jokes, and par­tic­u­larly at the slap­stick of Tim­o­thy Speyer’s whoop­ing-voiced Al­berta.

For younger view­ers, though, the first half of Neal Foster’s adap­ta­tion in par­tic­u­lar is rather wordy, with much of the ac­tion con­cen­trated in the show’s fi­nal 20 min­utes. Still, Wal­liams’s story, even with its un­der­stated mes­sage about class and peo­ple be­ing ba­si­cally the same, cer­tainly kept their at­ten­tion.

Tim­o­thy Speyer as Aunt Al­berta with Wag­ner the owl. Top left: Ge­orgina Leonidas as Stella and Ash­ley Cousins as Soot

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