David Walliams’ Billionaire Boy
Adapted and directed by Neal Foster
Leicester Curve – Touring
Tuesday 15th March – Saturday 19th March 2022
In the world of children’s writing, David Walliams is a modern-day literary phenomenon. Ask any five to fifteen-year-old about his books and they will rattle off a host of titles that began with The Boy in the Dress back in 2008. Adults will tell you he writes in the style of Roald Dahl with a vein of dark humour running throughout, in addition to creatively named characters and stories with a strong message or moral.
Walliams’ Billionaire Boy is currently playing at the Curve and much like the man himself, it is big, bold, and brash in a manner that will delight audiences both young and old. Joe Spud (Matthew Gordon) is the boy who seems to have everything; the latest in video games, racing cars and gadgets, plus as much money as he could ever want. What he doesn’t have is a true friend.
Moreover, the pupils at his ‘posh’ school St. Cuthbert’s bully him mercilessly, because his dad made his fortune inventing a new kind of toilet paper called ‘Bumfresh.’ Sad and lonely, Joe persuades Dad (Matthew Mellalieu) to let him go to the local ‘comp’ in order to be ‘a normal boy.’ Will Dad’s billions prove to be a help or a hindrance as Joe enrols at Ruffington High School? (Motto – ‘Doing the Best We Can.’)
The set design by Jacqueline Trousdale is remarkable. I think back to how I would have felt as a child and I know I would have found it magical. There are skyscrapers made of wooden crates and toilet rolls, alongside corrugated iron backdrops, light boxes, metal crates and wheelie bins; the wonder being that everything can metamorphose just by opening a box or a lid. I find myself eager to see which door will be opened next and what will it contain? A crystal chandelier, a lush array of houseplants, a whole corner shop?
The detail is mesmerising and huge kudos to the cast for not only remembering lines, cues and choreography (plus a bevy of costume changes), but for manoeuvring the set to change each scene. Watch out for a genuine ‘wow’ moment when Dad brings Joe’s homework to school. The younger kids in the audience are agog at this and I am equally impressed.
Trousdale is furthermore responsible for the costume design, and I love this aspect of the show. My favourite outfits are those of Sapphire (Rosie Coles), Dad’s gold-digger girlfriend, who arrives on stage at one point in a frenzy of neon. I would love to know from where they sourced her banana yellow boots from as I cannot stop staring at them.
Emma Matthews is terrific as the dinner lady Mrs Trafe. Serving up Cockroach Cake, Breeze Block Pie and Deep-Fried Rust, her performance is infinitely more appealing than her culinary concoctions. Macaroni snot, anyone? Swapping top hat and cane, for colander and giant wooden spoon, she puts me in mind of Victoria Wood and in my opinion steals the show. In addition, Jake Lomas is simply gorgeous as Bob, his expressive face running a gamut of emotions from hurt or vulnerability to unalloyed joy without a word having been said.
The songs (Jak Poore) and choreography (Paul Chantry and Rae Piper) are fun and entertaining in a very accessible way. I can imagine kids singing the songs and copying the dance moves once the show is over. There are definite earworms that burrow in tight.
Walliams’ writing isn’t subtle, but that’s his schtick. The message that ‘money can’t buy you happiness’ or the importance of spending quality time with family and genuine friends hits home, nevertheless. As I go to spend a penny at the end of the show, I can hear someone singing the line ‘He was a Billionaire Boy’ from the finale. The irony of the location is not lost on me given that this is a show peppered with poo, wee and fart jokes, but the singer sounds extremely happy. They have had a cracking night out; you can hear it in their voice and that’s a good enough recommendation for me.
Running Time – 1 hour 50 minutes (including interval)
Age Recommendation – 5+