Writer: David Walliams
Adapter: Neal Foster
Director: Neal Foster
Music: Jack Poore
Lyrics: Neal Foster
Choreography: Paul Chantry & Rae Piper
As much as David Walliams is trying to claim the crown of favourite children’s storyteller from the legendary Roald Dahl, he lacks the sophistication and the deep insight into the psyche of young readers that Dahl had in spades. That said, Walliams is successfully filling a hole in the market for particularly British, silly, undemanding, books for kids, and they love it – the numbers alone bear this out, 32 million books sold and translations into 53 different languages.
2010’s Billionaire Boy has had a BBC TV adaptation in 2016 and in the past year, two different stage adaptations, both with original music. This tour which stretches the length and breadth of the UK and almost the entirety of 2020, is from Birmingham Stage Company who are on their third adaptation of Walliams’ work, having previously staged Gangsta Granny and Awful Auntie.
12 year-old Joe Spud is the titular billionaire boy, the richest boy in the country, heir to the Bum Fresh toilet roll fortune. He lives in his own wing of his father’s mansion Bumfresh Towers, has his own sports car, two pet crocodiles, three speedboats and a robot butler, but yes, you guessed it – absolutely no friends, in fact, his classmates at the most expensive private school in the country call him ‘Bum Boy’ and ‘Master Poop Paper’ to name a few choice epithets. Joe persuades his dad that it would be best if he enrolled incognito into the local comprehensive. There Joe learns a valuable lesson on true friendship.
All roles are played by adults to varying degrees of success. Matthew Gordon’s Joe and his should-be best pal Bob (Davy Bell) are largely pleasing as the 12 year-old on/off buddies, as are Jason Furnival as Joe’s larger than life dad and Aosaf Afzal as shop-owner Raj, both breathe much-needed life into the proceedings. The hard-worked ensemble are somewhat hit and miss as they double and triple up on roles as well as sing and dance.
The most significant problems are two-fold – diction and amplification. Much, if not most of the dialogue and lyrics are lost due to a combination of both. Worst offender being Rosie Coles as dad’s gold-digger girlfriend Sapphire, barely a word lands.There’s also the issue of the entire adaptation being a little lifeless and a bit leaden in pace at times. Walliams’ reliance on bum jokes isn’t, I dare say it, exploited enough. They are the highlight of the piece for the target audience. The songs too are a little cartoony and very similar.
For all its problems it is a pleasant and undemanding evening at the theatre. There’s (just) enough to sustain the primary school-age children in the audience’s attention, but there’s the niggling feeling that it could have gone a bit further to really capture the mischief.
Runs until 19 January 2020 | Image: Contributed