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Stage Dragon Review: Billionaire Boy – Yvonne Arnaud Theatre

Published on: 5 Aug, 2022
Updated on: 5 Aug, 2022

No one wants to be friends with a boy whose dad owns a company called Bum Fresh, even if he is a billionaire. Photo by Mark Douet

By Ferenc Hepp

Joe Spud is 12 years old. He has all the money and possessions he could ever want but no true friends. Who wants to be friends with someone whose father has a toilet paper business called Bumfresh, however successful it might be?

This is the premise of the Birmingham Stage Company’s stage adaptation of David Walliams’s Billionaire Boy, which was originally published as a children’s fiction book in 2010. The book was also adapted for BBC television in 2016.

The Billionaire Boy has everything he could want – but a true friend. Photo by Mark Douet

The show has been at the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre for a few days this week at the tail end of a national tour which started in February and next week heads up to Aberdeen.

This production is adapted and directed by Neal Foster, and designed by Jacqueline Trousdale. Her design unsurprisingly involves a large number of toilet rolls in various guises and positions, including the opening scene, which is set in “Bumfresh Towers” on Joe’s birthday with his father handing him yet another £1 million cheque as his present.

Joe is played by the baby-faced Matthew Gordon and dad on this tour is Matthew Mellalieu. With the exception of Gordon as Joe, the other members of the cast double up as other characters throughout, and all work very hard, not just as actors, but also as singers in various songs composed by Jak Poore, and movement choreographed by Paul Chantry and Rae Piper.

The individual scenes are quite short and occasionally some of the words in the songs are not easy to understand due to the sound quality, but the characters are well defined and fun.

Joe Spud goes to school to find a friend. Photo by Mark Douet

One of the highlights, and the scenes which were particularly enjoyed by the young audience members, involved Mrs Trafe, played with brilliant comic timing by Emma Matthews. She is the dinner lady at the school where Joe attempts to hide his background and find a longed-for friend.

Bob (Jake Lomas) becomes the first possible candidate and Lomas gives a sensitive, emotional and well-observed performance as Bob, who is bullied due to his size, but with plenty of humour at the same time.

He is soon discarded as the cool JJ (Matthew Chase) starts hanging around with Joe, but is he genuine, or do the others recognising him from an advert mean that he has an ulterior motive?

Chase is very believable as the popular kid at school who Joe would want to hang around with and his secret is eventually uncovered by Raj, the mad, enthusiastic but very friendly local shopkeeper, portrayed with great gusto and fun by Tuhin Chisti.

Joe is brought down to earth at the end when his dad’s business goes out of business and they lose everything, but that also means that he re-gains Bob as a friend, which is what he was looking for in the first place. The moral of the story is summarised by Joe himself when he says “some things can’t be bought, like friendship, feelings, love…”

The cast. Photo by Mark Douet

This is a lovely, feel-good story, a family show for all ages. The cast works very well together and there are lots of special moments throughout. Some of the songs are not very memorable, and there was not a huge amount of reaction from the youngsters as the story unfolded, but it all builds nicely towards the end with an uplifting finale and a very enthusiastic appreciation to the curtain call.

Its last performance is tomorrow, Saturday, August 6. Tickets are available via www.yvonne-arnaud.co.uk or 01483 440000.

If you miss it, Walliams’s next show, Demon Dentist, starts its world première tour in September.

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