DAVID Walliams can add musical triumph to his varied CV, in a career which seems to have settled him into a successful role as a writer of children’s books. They may not be great literature but they are hugely enjoyable, relevant and POPULAR.
He was at the new Nuffield Theatre in Southampton on Wednesday for the opening of the new musical version of his Billionaire Boy, the story of a boy catapulted to inordinate riches by his father’s “discovery” of wet-and-dry loo roll.
All Joe Spud wants is friends and a normal life. All his dad can offer is bucketloads of money. Both have got lots to learn before they can get their relationship onto an even keel.
Walliams’ books, oddly criticised as not being as good as Roald Dahl’s, address current issues. In Billionaire Boy these include school bullies, the cult of celebrity, consumerism, fake news and the importance of friendship. The brilliant (mostly) young cast of eight takes a helter-skelter journey through the life of Joe Spud and his new friend Bob, and it’s fun from start to finish, full of colour and comedy.
Ryan Heenan, such a memorable John Trenchard in Salisbury Playhouse’s Moonfleet earlier this year, is a charmingly hesitant Joe, with Dean Nolan’s barnstorming performance as his dad and the school cook, Lem Knights as Bob, Sophia Nomvete (Mrs Otter in Julian Fellowes’ Wind in the Willows) as Bob’s Mum, the head teacher and more, and Avita Jay as the ghastly Sapphire and the inventor and street trader Raj, with Eleanor Kane as Lauren.
This is a show for the children that should delight the grown-ups, too, as long as they don’t take themselves overly seriously and take issue with asides, theatre references and other good jokes.
It is put together in Luke Sheppard’s production with a carefree energy that incorporates the sort of props you could make at home (what a brilliant helicopter) and precisely timed dance, song and acrobatics. The tuneful music, composed by Miranda Cooper and Nick Coler of Xenomania, is played on stage and performed by the company of singing, musician- actors, progressing the story with Jon Brittain’s lyrics.
It’s a great show, destined for a lengthy and packed out tour and a London theatre whenever one becomes available.
Photographs by Manuel Harlan