Billionaire Boy, Bristol Hippodrome and touring

THERE have been many stories, often taken from life, showing how great wealth, suddenly acquired, corrupts those in receipt of such a windfall.  One perfect example is Spend, Spend, Spend, the musical based on the rags-to-riches-to-rags story of Yorkshire housewife Vivian Nicholson who in 1961 won £152,319 on the football pools, and five husbands later was declared bankrupt.

David Walliams, one of the most prolific and successful authors of children’s fiction, said that the idea for this story of Joe Spud, whose billionaire dad attempts to buy him, rather than give him, love, affection and friendship, came to him when he began to fall out of love with being famous.

This stage version of the successful TV original presentation has 18 musical numbers added by Miranda Cooper and Nick Coler, and they tend to dilute the powerful message that sudden wealth corrupts all but the most strong willed of people. You certainly cannot claim that Matthew Gordon’s Joe Spud, for all his good intentions (he even leaves his posh school for an incognito place at the local comprehensive in an attempt to find a true friend), or his dad (Matthew Mellaieu), soft hearted and overwhelmed by his new found riches, possess the strongest of will powers. You can believe in Joe’s desperation to find a real friend, rather than those bought and paid for by dad, and Matthew Mallalieu’s befuddled inability to separate reality from the phoney world of those who surround him in the hope of profit.

Standing out among this long list of phonies, all played and sung by a ten-strong cast, are Jake Lomas’ beautifully sincere Bob, who offers the sort of friendship money can’t buy, and Tuhin Christi’s quiet, worldly-wise Asian shopkeeper.

Trying to keep the balance between the strong morality in the story and broad humour is director/adaptor/lyricist Neal Foster. He certainly spares no effort in bringing out the humour in the comedy characters – Emma Matthews’ school lunch bar owner Mrs Trafe, whose outrageous mixture of food is a direct descendent of Letitia Cropley’s sandwiches from The Vicar of Dibley, is comedy aimed straight for a belly laugh. Straddling the serious and comedic themes is Rose Coles, completely transparent as dad’s money-grabbing finance, and realistic as a rat deserting the sinking ship when she rushes for the door when dad’s money evaporates.

There is indeed plenty for the older members of the audience to chew on, but at the opposite end of the age range, the show is aimed according to its publicity at an age range of seven-plus, there is plenty of room for more mime and verbal comedy.

The production is at Bristol Hippodrome until Saturday 11th June, nightly with matinees.


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