As a stage version of his best-selling children’s book Awful Auntie heads to Manchester Opera House next month, David Walliams took time out to answer a few questions about the show

The Bolton News: Wagner and Alberta in Awful Auntie
(Picture: Mark Douet)

Awful Auntie is your fourth book to be translated 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 per cent 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.

How involved are you with the adaptation?

Neal Foster is a writer, director, 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.

The Bolton News: Alberta and Stella in Awful Auntie (Picture: Mark Douet)

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 and pick her up and fly off with her as if she is a bit of prey.

The Bolton News: Soot and Stella in Awful Auntie (Picture: Mark Douet)

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 per cent 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 its brilliant dad, but it’s good to gauge his reaction, cause kids don’t fake it. You know instantly because they do not lie, so if they don’t like something you’ll know.

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.

The Bolton News: Stella and Alberta in Awful Auntie (Picture: Mark Douet)

What I like is the further you get from London, generally the noisier the audience are 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 you came up with the story that’s been put on the stage by 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?

Me and Matt are working on a brand new show together with new characters and I’m working on a cartoon series of Gangsta Granny and I’m writing a movie screenplay of Slime for Nickelodeon.

Awful Auntie is at Manchester Opera House from Thursday, April 18 to Saturday, April 21. Details from www.atgtickets com