Book: Jon Brittain from the book by David Walliams
Music: Miranda Cooper and Nick Coler
Lyrics: Jon Brittain and Miranda Cooper
Director: Luke Sheppard
Reviewer: James Garrington
Billionaire Boy – The Musical hits the Belgrade this week as part of a short national tour – and it’s a jolly, light-hearted romp with a serious message at its heart.
Joe Spud is an ordinary boy, whose father works in the local toilet roll factory. Then a chance remark with another parent leads Len Spud to a spectacular invention – Bum Fresh, a toilet paper that is dry on one side and damp on the other. The product is a huge success, and at the age of 12 Joe is no longer just an ordinary schoolboy, but the son of a billionaire who seemingly can have anything in the world that he wants. Can he successfully negotiate the perils of life at school and find the things he truly desires but which money can’t buy?
Billionaire Boy is, like the book by David Walliams, aimed squarely at the younger members of the audience but there is a lot here for the older theatre-goer to enjoy too. The script is unsubtle and the characters hugely stereotyped, but far from being a problem, these become part of the joy of the production. This is a show that on the whole doesn’t take itself seriously, with massively over-the-top performances and dodgy wigs as the small cast swap between roles.
Occasionally there’s a sense that a slightly larger cast would make things easier and have more impact, but in some ways, the obvious character-doubling helps the production – it’s not meant to be taken too seriously – and everyone works incredibly hard to generate a high-energy experience. There are some good voices and quality musicianship on display, too. Sophia Nomvete is a delight as Narrator/Bob’s Mum, whose name we only discover right at the end of the show. Although she’s known Len since their sons were born, she’s living in very different circumstances and seems to be happy with her lot. Lem Knights (Bob) pitches his performance nicely as a petulant schoolboy, afraid of the school bullies Sue and Dave Grubb (Natalie Morgan and Jared Leathwood)
Dean Nolan shows just the right degree of misplaced joy in excessive wealth as Joe’s father Len, surrounded by his so-called friends while warning Joe about the dangers of people trying to take advantage of his money. As the Billionaire Boy himself, Ryan Heenan give us an intense performance as Joe – perhaps too intense at times, particularly in his relationship with new arrival Lauren (Eleanor Kane), and slightly out of sync with the carefree performances around him though at the same time reinforcing his feeling of unhappiness at feeling like an outsider. The slot for most memorable performance has to be reserved for Avita Jay, who is a wonderful money-grabbing Sapphire, along with a gloriously over-the-top local shopkeeper Raj – a would-be inventor, everyone’s friend and with a good line in music-hall style comedy.
The show is packed with good songs throughout, with a variety of different styles from up-tempo pop to ballad and an odd touch of Barry White for good measure, and a mixture of comedy and serious lyrics. Some of the numbers are very good – almost to the point where they don’t seem to quite fit the style of the production around them with a sense that maybe they belong in a different show. Billionaire Boy – The Musical is laden with the sort of toilet humour that appeals to the younger audience. The characters are larger-than-life, and although the message is unsubtle it is pitched at the right level for its target audience. Well worth seeing – bring the children or come on your own, you’ll have a good evening either way.
Runs Until 23 February 2019 and on tour | Image: Manuel Harlan