In this world of helicopter parenting, its reassuring that shows such as David Walliams’ Awful Auntie are still such big hits, regardless of the gruesome content and hell-bent intent of their characters.

For those of you who haven’t read the best-selling children’s book, Awful Auntie depicts 12 year-old orphan Stella who lives with her auntie in a huge isolated mansion miles from anywhere, where things go from bad to worse.

Timothy Speyer, who plays said Awful Auntie, agrees that his namesake is truly terrible. “Oh, she is horrible, really horrible, and gets worse rather than better as the show goes on, which doesn’t give you much to play with.

“Put it this way, she doesn’t have Stella’s best interests at heart. So while it’s a plum role, it is slightly disconcerting that they thought of me for the part,” he chuckles.

The adapters auditioned numerous women for the role before Neal Foster remembered Timothy playing the grandmother in George’s Marvellous Medicine, called him in for a read through and gave him the part.

“Its great to be playing someone so extraordinary. Awful Auntie is a great character, and such fun, but it is a challenging part because obviously the majority of your audience are children and Awful Auntie is a larger-than-life character.

“So my job is to make the story as believable and truthful as possible. It has to be clear and the story has to be told. And that’s not easy because the plot is quite complex. “

Having played numerous comic Shakespearian characters for the RSC in his time, Timothy is therefore used to dressing up as a woman for work.

“Well it’s been done before, look at Trunchbull in Matilda. And Walliams was quite happy for a man to play the part.”

Starring in the West End production of 39 Steps, was also good practice, the four actors playing all the parts in the high octane, farcical play, including numerous women.

Butt this is a children’s production, which requires a whole different skill set.

“Quite – the trick is to keep them all spellbound and that’s the greatest challenge, because adults are much more polite; they might yawn but they will stay quiet and clap politely at the end.

“Children don’t do that. You know about it when they are bored So they have to believe the story and stay listening to what’s happening, for it to work.”

“Luckily Awful Auntie is very Roald Dahl-esque, as well as being magical and contemporary, and David Walliams has always been very open about his admiration for the famous author, so this is very much of the same genre.”

With Oxford right at the beginning of the extensive tour, and plans for the West End already being discussed, it looks like we are in for a treat then.

So what does David Walliams make of it?

“He always said Awful Auntie was like a children’s version of The Shining, so it’s quite gothic. But it’s also a tremendously uplifting story of hope against adversity.”

Awful Auntie is at the New Theatre Oxford, from Wednesday 11 to Saturday 14 October

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