Awful Auntie, Theatre Royal review: ‘Many a touching moment’

Awful Auntie UK tour

Awful Auntie UK tour - Credit: Archant

Awful and auntie - two words that strike fear into the soul when it comes to literature.

They're women like Miss Slighcarp in The Wolves of Willoughby Chase or Alberta - star of Awful Auntie, both of them hell-bent on stealing the inheritance or their young charges.

How to put a stop these ruthless matriarchs? Neal Foster's new stage adaptation takes the matter in hand, putting an end to the antics of David Walliams' Awful Auntie in a practical guide that's a boon for any suffering niece.

Although Foster is best known for bringing the Horrible Histories to the stage, this is his second adaptation of Walliams' work.

Gangsta Granny was an award winner.

With more than a touch of the Gothic, the evening is full of dark chimneys and dangerous precipices.

Jacqueline Trousdale's set is a masterpiece of engineering, literally moving with the actors as they clamber about the stately home hiding from wicked Aunt Alberta (Timothy Speyer).

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As with the Horrible Histories, there's no fussiness about the way the set is dressed and storytelling uses a bare minimum of props to gain its effects.

READ MORE: Sir Ian McKellen coming to two Norwich theatres to celebrate 80th birthdayFoster's pared-down style champions resourcefulness.

Young heroine Stella Saxby (Georgina Leonidas) uses boot polish and marbles in her self defence.

Despite the sheer nastiness of the villainess, it's simple tricks and some supernatural strokes of good luck that win the day.

Some lovers of the book have complained that the emotional content is strangely lacking in this production.

It's inevitable, given Foster' success, that there's a formula to his writing.

You might assume that his flare for creating sustained sketch shows mitigates against an evening in which we can dive head-first into an engaging, unbroken narrative.

Perhaps these early grumblings reached the company, because now the action is gripping.