billions cast 

Billionaire Boy

Wolverhampton Grand


David Walliams might not write about swallows and amazons, or lions, witches and bedroom furniture, his books might not make it into 22nd century must read lists – if humanity makes it that far - but he has managed something the alchemists of yore never managed, the secret of creating gold, literary gold in his case.

He has discovered the formulae to grab the attention and imagination of children and, let’s be honest, a way to appeal to the somewhat more basic level of children’s humour – you can’t go far wrong with bums, poo, bodily bits and functions and gastronomically expressive bottoms – and manages to turn all that into a coherent story.

So, when we find out that Joe Spud is the billionaire boy, only son of the bog roll king, the man who invented Bumfresh, the toilet roll with a moist, bum pandering surface on one side and a dry absorbent surface on the other, we have already got the kids in the audience hanging on every word. Bums, toilets and poo before they had hardly settled in their seats.

Dad, Len Spud, played with pocketfuls of cash and if you want it I’ll buy it attitude, by Matthew Mellalieu, used to work in the toilet roll factory checking the cardboard inner tubes, now he has his own factory and spends his days checking his bank account as the money rolls in. He lives in the ultimate pools winner’s mansion, the largest private house in the country. 

The problem is that money has taken over his life. Whatever you want, or even not want, money will buy it. We open with son Joe, a lovely performance from Matthew Gordon, celebrating his birthday . . . alone. His present from dad a £1 million cheque – not even gift wrapped.

He goes to a posh private school full of princes, dukes and sons of those at the top of society’s greasy pole who look down, quite nastily, on the poor kid now a rich kid, the bog roll boy. A school where he has no friends, despite his father’s belief that money will buy anything, even mates.

Game boy

Matthew Gordon as Joe with his rich boy game set up

So, he pleads with his dad to send him to the local comp, and not tell anyone he is rich – he just wants to be an ordinary boy, to have ordinary friends, who are friends with him not his money.

So here we meet Bob, a heartfelt performance from Jake Lomas, a lad whose father dies last year, and who takes to new boy Joe. Joe and friend Bob play it straight, with the weird characters around them, and that really works.

We come across the Grubbs, the brother and sister school bullies, Anthony Sahota and Amy Hargreaves delighting in vindictive nastiness  . . . and putting Bob in rubbish bins. Then new boy Jayden turns up, played by a smooth talking, dancing and oh so cool Matthew Chase. Jayden, JJ, has a secret though, a secret that is a final straw for Joe.

And as romantic interest there is Sapphire, played with sexy seduction (at a price) by Rosie Coles, she is a modern day prospector, a real gold digger, Len’s fiancée who provides him with love spelt with a capital £.

And let’s not forget Raj and Mrs Trafe. Raj, played with great fun by Tuhin Chisti, runs the local sweet shop and newsagents with endless special(ish) offers and sensible, if somewhat roundabout advice.

Mrs Trafe runs the school canteen with a menu that makes Heston Blumenthal’s efforts look as tame as the local tea shop. With the likes of snot, slugs, sock cheese, underpants and so on among the ingredients it is guaranteed grimaces of delight from the assembled youngsters. Bums, poo and eating slugs, what more could a child want?

Emma Matthews plays the role as a matter of fact dinner lady, which makes all the bizarre offerings even funnier. Incidentally, you don’t have to be called Matthew or Matthews to get in this show but with four out of the nine cast sporting the name it looks like it helps!

When Joe’s secret finally comes out, that he is rich beyond dreams, he finds everyone is his friend, and that everything can be bought, even without him knowing, from friends to getting people sacked; it is a world he detests.

The whole thing is becoming a mess and it gets even worse when Bumfresh hits a problem and Len’s fortunes hit rock bottom, or in this case, purple bottom.

Joe wanted to be an ordinary boy . . . now he is, ordinary and poor. David Walliams’ books usually have a message, a moral behind all the fun, in this case he points out money isn’t everything, and it can’t buy everything, and that includes friends, and the really important things are what they mean not what they cost.

The set from Jacqueline Trousdale is simple and clever – and the first time I have ever seen a set built on pallets! It consists of columns of toilet rolls which slide in and out to give us Raj’s shop, classrooms, Len’s palace, a homage to bad taste, and we have an effective helicopter, a roll on and off café and even a toilet all manoeuvred in and out of position slickly and at commendable speed by the cast.

The songs (music Jak Poore) are witty with choreography from Paul Chantry and Rae Piper of Chantry Dance lively and high energy.

The cast set a cracking pace and the result is a great family show which delights youngsters and has enough substance and fun to keep those who were youngsters once upon a time, entertained.

Adapted and directed by Neal Foster, the actor/manager of producers The Birmingham Stage Company, Billionaire Boy will be splashing the cast at Wolverhampton Grand to 05-06-22.

Roger Clarke


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