David Walliams' Awful Auntie in Brighton!

Effectively it's one long chase from start to finish '“ and the children are absolutely entranced.

Richard James Awful Auntie by Birmingham Stage Company. Photo by Mark Douet
Richard James Awful Auntie by Birmingham Stage Company. Photo by Mark Douet

Richard James is playing the butler in David Walliams’ Awful Auntie (Brighton Theatre Royal, June 6-9), and he is loving every moment.

“We started rehearsals in August last year, and we have just had our 230th performance. And every one of them has been different!

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“We are under no illusions. It is David Walliams who is getting the audiences in.

“He is just incredibly popular, and he has a great knack of appealing to children but also to their parents and even to their grandparents.

“He has been compared to Roald Dahl, and I don’t know.

“There is a darkness there, and it is always the children that win the day, with the adults always being shown up as silly or foolish or just evil. It is great fun.

“I don’t think audiences who came to see us last September and then saw us now would see any big changes, but I do think we are a lot more relaxed in the roles, a lot more relaxed with the whole thing.

“The story is set in 1933, which I think is unusual with David Walliams. I think it is his only period piece. It is set between the wars, and the language obviously isn’t difficult, but there might be one or two words that the children might want to look up afterwards.”

When Stella sets off to visit London with her parents, Lord and Lady Saxby, she has no idea that her life is in danger.

Waking up three months later, only her Aunt Alberta can tell Stella what has happened.

But not everything Alberta tells her turns out to be true and Stella quickly discovers that she’s in for the fight of her life against her very own Awful Auntie…

Richard is playing the butler whose job is essentially to come on, do something silly and then go off again, leaving Richard free to enjoy a cup of tea and a crossword in his dressing room.

“I am playing an ancient buffoon basically who is so old that he has forgotten why he is there.”

We get two different audiences – either schools matinees when the cast can be faced with around a thousand youngsters in front of them or evening performances which are much more family affairs.

People talk about children’s difficulty these days in responding to live entertainment after hours spent staring at a screen. But if anyone is going to fiddle with their phones during the show, it’s generally a teacher or a parent.

“You look out in the audience and you can see their face illuminated by their bright screen!

“I don’t want to overstate it. It is perhaps one or two people every few days, but it is never the children. They are too engrossed in the show!”

For more stories by Phil, see: https://www.chichester.co.uk/author/Phil.Hewitt2