Q&A with David Walliams


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,, which opens at Lighthouse on Thursday 21 March and runs until Sunday 24 March. Their latest collaboration in a series of shows which includes the Oliver Award-nominated Gangsta Granny and Billionaire Boy, we caught up David Walliams to find out more...

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% 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, you’ve got all kinds of things, so you need to be really inventive on the way that you approach those things. 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 starring 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 had adaptations before and if you are working with the right people then you don’t have to worry, and you also need to give them some freedom to make their own decisions. You can’t be breathing down someone’s neck the whole time while they are trying to be creative, and this is a different medium. I have done things in theatre, but he knows it a lot better than me. I’ve never directed a play, so the best thing is just to make sure the thing is heading in the right direction. Obviously, I want it to be faithful to the book and I don’t want it to suddenly be about something else entirely, but he is very good at it and I think those who have read the book will probably want to see it as written.

He follows the story closely but has really imaginative solutions to areas of the storytelling, and he embellishes things and other things he may cut but this is all completely normal stuff to do when you are adapting something for the stage.

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. I don’t want to be too egotistical about it because if there is someone better to play it than me then they should play it.

A book by David Walliams starring David Walliams… oh god! 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.

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 you know “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.

The villains are some of the best characters, they drive the story so it’s hard to have stories without some kind of threat or villain.  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 because I think kids like it that way. Miss Trunchbull is the ultimate comic villain for me because she does surreal things like spinning girls around by their pigtails and throws them out the window. Which creates a funny image, it’s a bit different from just punching them in the face… getting thrown out the window though by your pigtails if that really happened that would just be the worst, but somehow Roahl Dahl handles it so imaginatively.

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. Obviously, that isn’t ever likely to happen with an owl and a child but it’s fun to kind of 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?

For sure, 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. Even though I said I did most of the hard work and I had to write it he goes well yeah it was my idea though dad, so I just say you’ll get the money one day!

But yes, he is a good sounding board, 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 also 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, because it’s not like he’s my super fan or anything, I’m his dad. So 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, 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 yeah.  Me and Matt Lucas, we started our first show in Edinburgh in 1995, so 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 but we found ourselves around the country. I rather liked that; it was interesting because it’s places you wouldn’t otherwise be.  One afternoon you’re in Plymouth and you’re wandering around and think “wow okay this is different and interesting”.

What I like is the further you get from London, generally the noisier the audience are because there’s just more of an atmosphere. It feels like there’s more of an identity when you go to Manchester, Liverpool, Cardiff or Glasgow, they feel like they already know each other. I can’t quite explain it but London is so vast you don’t have the same feeling.

Even when you watch Britain’s Got Talent, if someone says they’re from Manchester they’ll get an ‘AYY!’ but if they say they’re from London it’s a bit like ‘ah alright…’, it’s hard to explain but I like that. 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? 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?

Me and Matt are working on a brand new show together with brand new characters. So that’s exciting’ cause as much as I love writing on my own writing books, it’s very rare that its collaborators writing the same story together. So, we’ve been working on that which I’m really excited for.

I’m working on a cartoon series of Gangsta Granny, which is really exciting, so I’ll be writing some of the episodes for that.  I’m writing a movie screenplay of Slime for Nickelodeon. We have a few other bits and pieces in development, also a film of Fing from one of my books so there’s 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’s all these other opportunities and different ways how people can enjoy the stories, so I’m thrilled for this. I’m not precious, I’m used to collaborating and when you make a TV show its very collaborative and it’s not about one person being incredibly precious.  You have actors, directors, producers, script editors and so many more, so I hope I’m easy to collaborate with because I don’t mind things being changed as long as it makes it better I’m really happy with that.

Sometimes there’s great things that other writers bring to my work that I think “ah I wish I thought of that!”, which is a good feeling.  I feel like there will always be the book but the other experiences, be it a play, be it a TV series, be it a film, it gives it a chance to take on a bit more life. There needs to be the spirit, the story needs to be right, the characters need to be consistent but there needs to be some surprises there as well, there are new jokes, new moments, and stuff like that.


David Walliams is one of Britain’s best-loved comedians. LITTLE BRITAIN, his creation with Matt Lucas, won numerous international awards including three BAFTAs, and played in over 100 countries. It was followed by one of the most watched comedies of all time, Come Fly With Me.  David was a judge on Britain’s Got Talent for ten years and won numerous National TV Awards for Best TV Judge. A best-selling children’s author, David began writing books in 2008. His books have been translated into 55 languages, selling over 53 million copies worldwide.

Neal Foster is the adapter and director of Awful Auntie, and for the very first time he is also appearing in the title role. He is the Actor/Manager of The Birmingham Stage Company, which celebrated its 30th anniversary in 2022. Since its foundation in 1992 has staged over one hundred productions and the company has become one of the world’s leading producers of theatre for children and their families. Productions include Horrible Histories Live on Stage for eighteen years in the UK, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Qatar, Bahrain, Hong Kong, Singapore, New Zealand and Australia. Neal has written and directed all of the most recent Horrible Histories shows including the Barmy Britain series seen in the West End, across the UK, and internationally. Awful Auntie is his latest David Walliams stage adaptation after Gangsta Granny, Billionaire Boy and Demon Dentist. He also directed the world premiere of Tom Gates which he co-wrote with the author of the book series, Liz Pichon.

Awful Auntie is adapted and directed by Neal Foster, Assistant Director/Movement Director is Richard J Hinds, the Designer is Jackie Trousdale, lighting is by Jason Taylor, sound is by Nick Sagar and the music is by Jak Poore.

Awful Auntie is suitable for ages 5 +

:: Interview by Warren Higgins