Review: Billionaire Boy (Bloomsbury Theatre)

David Walliams’ book comes to the stage

Matthew Gordon (Joe) and Aosaf Afzal (Raj)
Matthew Gordon (Joe) and Aosaf Afzal (Raj)
© Mark Douet

The David Williams Extended Theatrical Universe continues apace – books such as The Midnight Gang, Awful Auntie and Gangsta Granny have all received the stage treatment, while in Stratford-upon-Avon the RSC has mounted a swanky musical version of The Boy in the Dress with tunes by Robbie Williams and Guy Chambers.

Billionaire Boy is something of a notable case, having been adapted twice in the space of a year. It was first produced by Nuffield Southampton Theatres in November with book by Jon Brittain, and now Walliams veterans Birmingham Stage Company have taken it on the open road with Neal Foster supplying both the text and direction.

The plot is essentially a more roundabout version of The Beatles' song "Can't Buy Me Love" mixed with the concept for Secret Millionaire. It follows a young boy, Joe Spud, the son of a toilet wipe mogul who has a lot more funds than friends – a pet crocodile and £100,000 pocket money can still mean a lonely lifestyle. Joe can't handle the fact all his basic schoolfriends simply use him for his money, rather than for liking him for who he is. All that changes when Joe decided to enrol in a new school, and somehow hide his vast fortune from his new schoolmates.

Big on heart but less so on laughs, Foster's adaptation is a faithful beat-by-beat reimagining of Walliams' story – the characters are largely wafer-thin but big set pieces including the arrival of a helicopter (taking a leaf out of the Miss Saigon book) are all present. Designer Jackie Trousdale's staging hides a few surprises, but a large central stack of toilet rolls jams up the space, making everything feel unnecessarily flat for large portions of the show.

The real star is the multi-roling cast – with snappier costume changes than a crocodile compère at a cabaret night, the 9-piece ensemble brings Walliams' oddball figures to life with ease and grace. Jak Poore's tunes are pleasant but largely unmemorable (though you may exit the theatre humming the titular number) and the show is just about the sum of its parts – a nice, uncontroversial experience that trots out important life lessons and makes them easily palatable for the whole family.