The Lowry, Salford – until Sunday 17th February 2019
Reviewed by Julie Noller
Billionaire Boy written by one of Britains most loved all round entertainers and good guy David Walliams was published back in 2010. Along with with his numerous other titles it’s popularity remains to this day with many school children enjoying reading and delighting in the humour within it’s pages. My own teenagers accompanied me to a show that had a pantoesque feeling and warm welcome from the outset.
This is a musical with show tunes and key changes mid song. All that’s missing is a staircase and a water feature to be a true old school film musical. The creative team is a mutli-award winning talented one, writers, lyricist and composers Miranda Cooper and Nick Coler have worked with stars such as Kylie, Sugarbabes and Girls Aloud; Jon Brittain in 2017 was awarded an Olivier. So you know those tunes will be catchy and they are indeed. The audience is predominately young children but that should not stop you going and enjoying it’s simple, easy to follow story, but as with all of David Walliams books there is a strong moral compass running throughout.
Billionaire Boy is a moral story that children will understand and a warming tale many adults will be pleased to be reminded of. There’s chuckles a plenty throughout and sometimes I wondered if the humour was too close to the bone in a very camp David Walliams of Little Britain fame; but don’t worry it’s only as close to the bone as a traditional panto is; where silliness shines through and there’s lots of giggling.
In one scene the school bullies Dave and Sue Grubb (Jared Leathwood and Natalie Morgan) are doing their thing, their words are bleeped out and I heard a mother and child from the row behind me ‘it’s instead of a naughty word’ ‘are they swearing Mummy? That’s bad’ We’ve all had those conversations when out and about.
The interaction with the audience is fantastic, from narration by Sophia Nomvete who incidentally also plays a variety of characters from the upstanding lovely Bobs Mum – Gwen to hilarious and rather ridiculous substitute school teacher Peter Bread. Avita Jay is the star of reality TV show and gold digger Sapphire and I dare you to not wonder which star she’s based on, but as shop owner Jay the inventor of the microphone mop she is a firm audience favourite; linking with the audience to usher in the second act, again in a throwback to panto we have the promise of sweets but get lettuce chucked off stage.
Lem Knights deserves a round of applause he was quite easily us older patrons favourite character, from Bob to the Spuds cleaning lady I couldn’t take my eyes away from his camp movements and even wondered if his influences came from watching soaps such as Eastenders. Ryan Heenan is Joe Spud our 12 year old Billionaire Boy who just wants an ordinary life, to attend his local comprehensive school, have friends any friends. He’s lonely and any Mum or Dad watching in the audience will feel the pull on their heart strings for isn’t it all any of us really want for our children to be truly happy?
Dean Nolan is Len Spud inventor of BumFresh that still has me in fits of laughter (yes I gave in to childish humour and it felt great) the man who has forgotten how to be a parent and in his own fit of loneliness throws his money into buying lot’s of expensive ill fitting wigs. All Joe wants is his time and his love and that message has got lost along with his hair and his amazing shepherds pie recipe. But when he buys the headmaster a brand new Harley Davidson and even pays Lauren (Eleanor Kane). Well it’s a step too far and as the play is wrapping up, everything is imploding in Joe Spuds life.
Dean Nolan is also Mrs Trafe from the school canteen with it’s disgusting food, she is the Pantomime dame of Billionaire Boy especially after using the money Joe gives her for a hip replacement on cosmetic enhancements. This is one of my many highlights that had me in stitches.
Billionaire Boy is fantastically camp, warm and witty. You’ll leave humming even singing those big show tune numbers. It works so well as a musical in fact it’s great strength may just be that it’s a fabulous starting block into the world of musicals for those younger and not so younger patrons of the theatre.
It’s strength throughout is it’s moral story line of loneliness, money doesn’t buy you happiness; simple happiness is sharing a chocolate bar with a friend and not buying the whole shop. There’s also the encouraging theme of talking about bullying and it’s effects on everyone. As with all Walliams stories the good guys despite their purple bottoms from minty BumFresh and becoming bankrupt they always win in the end and everyone is just happy in warm fuzzy glow as you will be leaving the theatre.