There is a huge amount of skill that goes into creating a story that will appeal to both kids and adults and David Walliams seems to nail it every time. I’ve loved reading several of his books with my children, and they always make all of us laugh. Like Roald Dahl, there is usually some dark humour at play, some hideous characters and sometimes a moral, but this is never in-your-face. And having seen Awful Auntie, and now Billionaire Boy, which has just come to Richmond Theatre with the award-winning Birmingham Stage Company, they translate well to the stage too.
The story tells of Joe Spud, a boy who has everything he could possibly want in the world thanks to the wealth created by his dad’s toilet roll empire. But one thing is missing: a friend. And so he moves from his snobby posh school to his local comp to find one. Things don’t go to plan – friendships are tested, there’s the school bullies to deal with, strict teachers and a dinner lady that thinks deep-fried Blu-Tack is a delicacy. Things go from bad to worse when his dad’s Bumfresh empire hits the skids (ahem) but it leads dad and son to a revelation about what really matters in life.
Billionaire Boy is adapted and directed by Neal Foster, and is his third David Walliams stage show after Gangsta Granny and Awful Auntie. He has done a fine job in bringing the characters to life, including the fabulous dinner lady (who cons Joe out of money for a hip replacement to suddenly reappear at school with a boob job). There’s a great scene where Joe’s dad arrives in a helicopter to deliver his homework (can they really get a helicopter on stage – yes, they can, and it’s brilliant). But what really makes it stand out is the music – the songs are witty, not schmaltzy, and will bring a smile to your face, and everything rolls along apace, taking us from the comp to the corner shop (and the excellent Raj) to Bumfresh Mansions.
And there was a surprise at the end too, with David Walliams taking to the stage to praise the team. It was a nice touch for the first night at the venue with both the adults and kids in the audience, dare we say, a little starstruck!