Billionaire Boy

Jul 29 2022 | By More

★★☆☆☆    Unfocussed

Playhouse: Thurs 28 – Sat 30 July
Review by Thom Dibdin

The Birmingham Stage Company’s adaptation of David Walliams’ Billionaire Boy splutters into the Playhouse for a half dozen performances, wearing its fun on its sleeve but failing to fizzle as it might.

The adaptation, by director Neal Foster is as solid as you would expect, as it tells of 12 year-old Joe whose dad has made a pile with his innovative toilet paper but who can’t find a friend. However the production rattles around in the Playhouse, amplified but still not quite audible.

Joe. Pic: Birmingham Stage Company

The pity is that this should be top notch. Jak Poore’s simple songs give just the right space for Walliams’ flights of fancy. Set and costume designer Jackie Trousdale hooks right into the toilet paper theme, creating a set that seems to be made of rolls of the stuff, but which opens up splendidly to reveal helicopters, spanking rich dinner parties and school classrooms.

Many elements of the performances are on point too. When it comes to subtlety, Matthew Gordon creates in Joe a child who is trying to come to terms with the realisation that there is such a thing as being too generous. While Jake Lomas is a solid best friend Bob – although it is hard to see quite why he is so faithful.

subtlety is lost

Sadly, it is that it is so hard to comprehend what is being said that such subtlety is lost. Along with, crucially, the words of the songs. Most notably the Grubbs whose onomatopoeic bullying of Bob is completely gone. While the many opportunities for scatological fun, given Dad’s toilet paper business, just don’t work.

Even characters’ names are easily miss heard – it sounds as though the splendid Emma Matthews is playing school cook Miss Tray, not Mrs Strafe.

Joe and Bob with Mrs Trafe. Pic: Birmingham Stage Company

Scenes in Raj’s corner shop fare better, with Tuhin Chisti a kindly and understanding avuncular character. And when the Grubbs are being nice to Bob, you can actually make out what is said. By which time it is too late, really.

Fans of the book who know it by heart might be fine with it all, but unfortunately anyone new will be lost during the set ups. You need to feel empathy for Joe and, while it almost arrives in the final scenes, it needs a solid foundation. The characters of Dad (Matthew Mellalieu) and his gold-digging girlfriend Sapphire (Rosie Coles) are too pantomimic to help out in that department.

moral themes

This is a show which clearly flags up its main moral themes of standing up to bullies and not being able to buy love. But while it could be poking fun at the obscenity of extreme wealth – a theme which is all too relevant today – it seems to be flying the flag for happiness through work and “honest” poverty.

A fun night for true fans of the book. But one which does not do what a great adaption should and bring converts to the cause.

Running time one hour 55 mins (including one interval)
Edinburgh Playhouse 18 – 22 Greenside Place, EH1 3AA. Phone booking: 0844 871 3014.
Thurs 28 – Sat 30 July 2022
Evenings: 7pm; Mats Thurs 1.30pm; Fri 10.30am; & Sat 2.30pm.. 
Tickets and details: Book here.

The company. Pic: Birmingham Stage Company


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