David Walliams Awful Auntie

David Walliams on ‘Awful Auntie’ at Sunderland Empire

Awful Auntie is coming to Sunderland Empire from 4 until 7 April. Just before the big show, we talk to David Walliams about this fabulous production

The bestselling children’s author David Walliams and the award-winning Birmingham Stage Company have teamed up for a brand-new production of the family adventure Awful Auntie, touring the UK from 14 March – 7 December.

This is their latest collaboration in a series of shows which includes the Oliver Award-nominated Gangsta Granny and Billionaire Boy.

Awful auntie is coming to Sunderland Empire this Easter break and just before it does, we sit down to have a chat with the one and only David Walliams…

Awful Auntie is your fourth book made into a play by Birmingham Stage Company,  how does that feel for you? 

It’s a thrill. They’re the kings of doing family shows and so I’m really lucky that I can trust them 100% with it and with this story, in particular, you have to be very imaginative with the problem of moving it from the book to the stage because it’s a book that’s on a big scale. 

You’ve got a ghost, you’ve got a killer owl, you’ve got a car chase. The show has to be spectacular, funny and thrilling, and I have seen it already and it is all of those things. 

David Walliams Awful Auntie

How involved are you with the adaptation? 

Neal (Foster) is a writer, director, and actor, and with this piece, he adapted the book, he’s directed it and he’s staring in it… a very humble man! We initially have a chat, I see the designs, the costumes, the sets and I come and watch rehearsals and come when the show opens but I do know that he completely knows what he’s doing. 

I’ve never directed a play, so the best thing is just to make sure the thing is heading in the right direction.  

Have you ever been tempted to pop up in one of the roles on the stage? 

Seeing it all again I’ve realised what an amazing part Aunt Alberta is. It’s a female part played by a man so one day I would like to play Aunt Alberta, but I can’t commit to a production for practical reasons like being a dad and having to do other things but one day I’d like to. 

There is something special about sitting in an audience and getting to experience your story while hearing the laughter, the gasps, the applause, and all those things that would not be the same if you were on stage.

David Walliams Awful Auntie

With the success of the previous stage versions of Billionaire Boy and Demon Dentist, when working on a new book, do you think how it could be on stage?

Normally when I’m writing I’m thinking about them as films. It’s more just the process rather than me thinking that they are going to be a film, I’m just trying to visualise everything. So I’m trying to think ‘What does this scene look like?’ or ‘What are the people saying?’. 

However, I do like creating really larger-than-life characters who I think are very suited to the stage because the stage is very hyper-real in plays and characters can talk to the audience. You want to boo the baddie, so I get a kick out of creating characters like Aunt Alberta.  

Something I learnt from reading Roahl Dahl was that if you can make your villains equally funny and scary then you probably are on the right path. In Awful Auntie there’s a giant owl called Wagner who can fly after Stella the heroine, pick her up and fly off with her as if she is a bit of prey. 

It’s fun to come up with these things that are pretty surreal and still scary but within safe boundaries. Kids like that, it’s quite fun to be scared but not in a way that’s going to upset you but just in a way that’s going to thrill you, so that’s what I’m going for in the story. 

As your son gets older are you finding yourself using him as a sounding board for characters and ideas?

We talk about ideas when we’re at the park and sometimes he gives me great ideas like he gave me the title and the idea for Mega Monster, which came out a few years ago, but the problem is he does want 50% of the royalties!

He’s great to take to the shows and see what he’s laughing at and see if he’s enjoying it or not, and I can show him things sometimes; like does he like this cover? does he like this artwork? does he think the idea of the book is exciting? all of those things.  

I have to listen to my own instinct, it’s not like he’s chomping at the bit for the next story or that he’s going to say: ‘It’s brilliant, dad’, but it’s good to gauge his reaction because kids don’t fake it. You know instantly because they do not lie, so if they don’t like something, you’ll know.

David Walliams Awful Auntie

With your acting background did you ever go out and do regional theatre yourself when you were starting out?

Sort of. Me and Matt Lucas started our first show in Edinburgh in 1995, nearly 30 years ago. In fact, Matt recently sent me a picture of Jackson’s Lane Community Centre which was our very first gig and he said: ‘Wow 29 years ago.’ That’s how long we have been in each other’s lives! 

We did a show in Edinburgh and we took it on a small show of art centres and little theatres. That was quite exciting and then we did a Little Britain tour which was on a much bigger scale.

What I like is the further you get from London, generally the noisier the audience is because there’s just more of an atmosphere. I’ll be going around the country making a few surprise appearances, just being there and watching it.

I love watching it and I love looking at everyone’s reaction. It’s a nice warm feeling inside, that pride that it’s your story on stage with this fantastic group and that audiences are loving it. It’s a great feeling which I’ll never tire of.

So then what’s next for you? Obviously, you have Astro Chimp your new book coming, but are there any other plans? Are we going to see you back on the screen?

Matt and I are working on a show together with brand-new characters. So that’s exciting because as much as I love writing on my own, it’s very rare that its collaborators writing the same story together. 

I’m working on a cartoon series of Gangsta Granny and I’m writing a movie screenplay of Slime for Nickelodeon. We have a few other bits and pieces in development, a film of Fing from one of my books so there are loads of activities that flow from the books that’s more than just writing the books.

So, there’s lots to do, we’re working on a Gangsta Granny musical, all kinds of things. That’s one of the incredible things about writing books, the book is not the end, can it be a play? Can it be a TV series? Can it be a movie? Even a theme park ride with Gangsta Granny!

There are all these other opportunities and different ways how people can enjoy the stories, so I’m happy about this. 

Grab your tickets to David Walliams Awful Auntie playing at Sunderland Empire 4 – 7 April, here.