boy cast

Dean Nolan as Len,, Ryan Heenan as Joe, Lem Knights as Bob and Sophia Nomvete as Bob's mum, Gwen. Pictures: Manuel Harlan

Billionaire Boy - The Musical

The Belgrade Theatre, Coventry


When it comes to books for children David Walliams has hit on a formula that not only appeals to children but also delights them in equal measure – in short, it’s a rip roaring success.

Listen to children somewhere between eight and teens or so chattering away, and their tales and imagination are at the fantastic end of the art of narrative, plots unfettered by such inconveniences as logic.

They are along the what if line of flights of fancy while their jokes have a preponderance of bodily parts and bodily functions.

So, when Joe Spud becomes the richest 12-year-old in the world after his dad invents . . . Bum Fresh, wipe’n’go toilet paper, sowing the seed for plenty of bum mentions and jokes, even a mention of mint scented flatulence, and a dramatic bum disorder spelling disaster and ruin . . . the children are hooked.

Walliams creates a magical world where anything is possible, adding the colour and excitement to an underlying morality tale.

In this adaptation of his 2010 novel, we have Len Spud, Joe’s dad, with so much money it has lost all meaning, he can afford anything, anytime, anywhere. He can buy anything he wants, or even doesn't want, and spends all his time proving it.

It is a lovely performance from Dean Nolan who also pops up as Mrs Trafe, the school canteen lady, who serves up food where salmonella is the least of your worries. “Real food doesn’t bounce,” Joe is warned. Nolan plays it for laughs with delightful timing, actions and expressions.

school band

Comp pupils, Bob with Eleanor Kane, Natalie Morgan, Jared Leathwood and Avita Jay

Joe is . . . well, normal. He’s rich beyond anyone’s dreams but far from happy. Fabulous wealth can buy you many things, except friends or even a dad. He has one who is no longer a dad, and he wants the one he once had, like he used to be.

Ryan Heenan plays it straight with a decent voice and bags of charm to get the audience on side from the start.

After changing schools to the local comp, he finally gets a friend, Bob, played sympathetically by Lem Knights. As Joe tries to do right by Bob, even buying off school bullies Dave and Sue Grubb, played by Jared Leathwood and Natalie Morgan – who also do their bit as bass and keytar players in the onstage band by the way – it shows how easy it is to upset, or even humiliate people.

Far from being grateful, Bob sees Joe as  "a spoilt brat". Joe is leaning that money has nothing to do with friendship.

Bob’s mum, Gwen, Sophia Nomvete, lives in the sort of house most of the audience would call home - compact in Joe’s words. But she welcomes him in and treats him as one of her own – and she knows he is rich and, like Bob, she wants nothing from him, unlike the rest of the world.

She even knows Joe’s dad Len from the time Joe was born – a time when Len was just a bloke who worked at the bog roll factory.

Nomvete gives the part some real heart, and doubles up as teachers, good and bad, as well as acting as a sort of Greek chorus to fill in the gaps for the audience.

The doubling up seems to affect everyone apart from Joe, with Avita Jay making her mark as in yer face corner shop owner, come inventor, come star actress Raj as well as gold digging, Essexland bimbo Sapphire, with her false nails firmly embedded in Len – or at least his money. Two wonderfully played roles with only the programme linking the two to Jay.

The same can be said for Eleanor Kane who plays a mean lead guitar when she is not being the ancient headmaster, The Queen or the ersatz girlfriend Lauren, the latter even being touching. The anus horribilis quip as the Queen was a clever line from the Queen, picked up by some adults in the audience.

firm friends

Rich or poor makes no difference to friends Joe and Bob

And sitting on balconies at the back of Gabriella Slade’s clever and flexible set we have Daisy Noir on drums and the show’s musical director on keyboards, Teddy Clements, who come down to make up the numbers when needed. Told you Joe had it easy.

Walliams and Jon Brittain have made the book work well on stage and have managed the neat trick of adding bits that will appeal to mums, dads and grandparents above the heads of the real audience, the children.

The tale is daft, but the kids love it - bum, flatulence and poo jokes never fail with youngsters– but those added snippets of humour for the adults, or the children’s taxi drivers as they are known, help to make it a real family show.

With asides to the audience it has hints of an end of the pier show with touches of revue, panto and even music hall thrown in – playing to the crowds, we even have a healthy alternative to sweets being chucked in to the audience. Lovely daftness.

Brittain was also involved in the songs along with Miranda Cooper and Nick Coler. The trio might not have written any songs to trouble the hit parade, but they are tuneful, lively numbers, with some nice jazz and ballads included, and move the story along quite splendidly. They fit in and feel right which is what you need in a musical.

Choreographer Tom Jackson Greaves has done much more than just add a bit of movement to the music, his routines are slick, need to be well danced and are visually interesting.

In the technicals Nic Farman’s lighting did its job well in dividing up scenes and picking out dramatic moments while Paul Gatehouse got the sound well balanced for the theatre - not always easy in musicals.

It was a nice touch at the end, by the way, to bring the stage crew on for a bow – presumable company stage manager Chris Peterson and deputy Karen Habens - shows just wouldn’t run smoothly, if at all, without those in the wings.

The result is an evening of wonderful fun for the whole family, it really is a lovely, feelgood show with a simple, honest message. My grandson, who is three months off eight, loved it and – the real test? . . . Even by the end there was no fidgeting, no restlessness or squirming in seats. The adults were still hooked - but more importantly, so were the kids. Smartly directed by Luke Sheppard, it is great family theatre. To 23-02-19

Roger Clarke


Index page Belgrade Reviews A-Z Reviews by Theatre