To anyone who has read his books, it will come as no surprise that David Walliams idolises the author Roald Dahl. Walliams’ gently anarchic style and quirky characters are keenly reminiscent of Dahl’s work and they also prove just as adaptable to the stage. For Billionaire Boy, Neal Foster at Birmingham Stage Company nurtures that cheeky, irreverent style to create a confident, colourful adaptation, complete with songs and an admirable message about love and the value of friendship.
Jak Poore creates a mischievous score and, if the songs are catchy rather than complex, they are bolstered by choreography from Paul Chantry and Rae Piper. Jacqueline Trousdale has great fun with the set design, capturing the mayhem of Tony Ross’ original illustrations for Walliams’ book. There’s even a nod to Miss Saigon, as Dad swoops in on a helicopter to deliver his son’s homework.
The key to its success, however, lies with a slick ensemble of actors bringing to life the wealth of weird characters from Walliams’ imagination. Jason Furnival and Emma Matthews are great value, pulling off multiple character roles including Dad, the CEO of Bum Fresh Toilet Rolls and Mrs Trafe, the dinner-lady with a heart of gold and a disgusting bill of fare.
There’s also a hilarious turn from Rosie Coles as the shameless gold-digger, Sapphire, intent on marrying Joe’s deluded father. Matthew Gordon’s Joe is central to the show, a rich kid whose distorted wealth has made friendships difficult. It’s a boisterous but considered performance, imbuing Joe with an emotional curiosity that gives Walliams’ story its moral centre.