I was not a fan of Awful Auntie and I really wanted to like it. When a kids show comes through town, against popular opinion, I’m 100% sign me up. Dinosaurs? Yep. Talking animals? Uhuh. Rhyming couplets every sentence? I’m all over it mate.
But I hated Awful Auntie. I really did.
Now to be fair there are some good bits. I must have laughed at a couple of the set changes which were intentionally, smoothly comic – an old housekeeper taking the tiger skin rug for a walk, sourcing a live chicken for dinner and other hijinks. And the set is amazing. It’s a stage designer’s horny fantasy: “let’s get it to spin around” “yes! Let’s get it to move side to side!” “YES! Let’s get it to function entirely automatically” “yes yes YES YES YEEESSSSS” …And I assume, therefore, the stage electrician’s nightmare.
But the rest? The rest is mostly running about the ‘giant house’ being mildly offensive which, at best is Little Britain toned down, and at worst is just bad writing for kids. For example, at one point near the end of the play Stella, the female protagonist, discovers the profound wisdom that whether you’re brought up in a stately home, or in a workhouse, you should treat everyone with respect. Not a bad message by any means. But she does only arrive at this conclusion once it has been revealed that her ghost friend who she has already patronised for growing up in the workhouse actually was/is her uncle. The titualar aunty sent him down the river in an early bid to kill him and the workhouse, it turns out, is just where he ended up. So kids, you should treat everyone as equals, but only because you might discover they are your relative from the same stately home as you and actually they ought to have been treated a lot better from birth (just like you).
The sketchy morals continue – not that a kids show need or ought to be moralistic – but the genuinely homicidal aunt perhaps would be better suited to Broadmoor than the Everyman. It is discovered, and fairly quickly accepted, early on that Aunt Augusta is a murderer – yeah that’s just how aunts are these days – and the torture scene (sorry, yes, that is torture scene) is fairly uncritically passed by. Honestly! Aunts! Whacha gonna do!? Hide the waterboarding kit? Turn off the mains power? Probably yes?
Later on there is mild resistance to more electrical torture when the ghost, Soot, encourages Stella to take one more hit for the team:
“Get back in the cage”
“You have to get back in it”
“I have a plan!”
“Oh alright then”.
Classic vague male heroics at the expense of female pain? Ah but they’re only 12 pal: kids just bounce back from that sort of thing. And that segues smoothly into my last major frustration. A female protagonist on stage still feels like a rarity and Stella Saxby is clearly such a rarity that Walliams forgot to add any brains. She constantly gets whine-y, annoying or explain-y lines, whilst her friend/ghost/uncle(!) gets all the funny bits. It’s excruciating.
Honestly, with his fairly offensive track record, how is David Walliams now licenced to pour his outdated attitudes into stories for kids? I’ve literally no idea. But I know I hate it.