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Owls, ghosts, bat-crazy butlers and one very awful Auntie

Awful Auntie, Belgrade Theatre, Coventry until Feb 24 The stage opens with high drama - twelve year old Stella wakes from a coma to be told not only has she broken every bone in her body in a car crash, both her parents are dead and she’s now in the care of one of the most awful people in the world - her Aunt Alberta. However not all is as Stella has been told, and what follows is a real adventure tale filled with puppetry, owls, crazy characters and even a ghost. Stealing the show right from the start is Timothy Speyer who plays Aunt Alberta. Delivering some of the play’s most gruesome lines, he does so in a way that keeps the children laughing.

The second star of the show is the elaborate revolving set. The four cylindrical towers convert into every room you might imagine to exist within the Saxby mansion, while leaving you marvelling at their construction. The adaptation from David Walliams’ popular book cannot have been an easy one. This is not a story which screams to be moved from the page to the stage, but has been done so with extreme skill.

The staging has all the elements that children used to Walliams’ stories or those of Roald Dahl will recognise - the grown-ups act terribly, the children are the real heroes and there is a liberal dose of toilet humour thrown in to offset the fact that Stella is often in fear for her life.

The comedy butler Gibbon, played by Richard James, appeared at first to be entirely superfluous to the plot, but as the play progressed it was clear that he was key to the delivery of some of the play’s best comedy moments. This is clowning taken to a new level. As my nine-year old son put it - ‘I love him, he’s so dumb.’ For a cold February half-term there can be no better entertainment than this. A quality piece of children’s theatre.

PHOTO by David Douet

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