There’s something about the pursuit of money that can, if one is not careful, become all consuming – I doubt many participants in the National Lottery take part purely because a portion of each ticket sale goes towards good causes, for instance. There’s a long-running television quiz show called Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?, which has, to its credit, given as much as one million pounds to individuals who stayed the course and answered a series of general knowledge questions correctly (albeit with the help of ‘lifelines’). In the realm of musical theatre, there are many ‘I wish’ songs to choose from, perhaps most notably Fiddler on the Roof’s ‘If I Were A Rich Man’, and a personal favourite, Half A Sixpence’s ‘Money To Burn’.
What Billionaire Boy suggests (or, at least, this theatrical adaptation of a David Walliams book, which I must confess I haven’t read – mostly if not entirely because I’m not exactly Walliams’ target audience) is that there such a thing as having too much money for one’s own good. This isn’t (necessarily) a vote of support for the Labour Party’s plan, had they won the 2019 General Election, to redistribute wealth in such a way that the power and the resources of the ‘super rich’ would have been severely curtailed. But, without giving everything away, Joe’s Dad (Jason Furnival), a self-made businessman, does have the kind of influence that people on a more typical household income wouldn’t.
Joe (Matthew Gordon) has every need taken care of, and then some, but struggles to find friends – or rather, he struggles to keep them, because at some point they will find out about his ridiculously wealthy background, and one way or another, this gets in the way of a good friendship. Then there are those who only want a ‘friendship’ with Joe for what they can get out of it – let him pay for this, that and the other. There aren’t any siblings to speak of, either, and with his father’s new girlfriend Sapphire (Rosie Coles) also in it for the money, it’s no wonder that Joe’s longing for companionship becomes ever more intense.
The ending is, in itself, rather predictable, but the journey that Joe goes on is what makes the show continually intriguing: he falls out with Bob (Davy Bell, who retains his natural lilting Belfast accent for this production), the one classmate on regular speaking terms with Joe. It was interesting to note the audience reactions to proceedings – there are audible gasps when Joe is dismissive of Bob, for instance, and when the streetwise Jayden (Bernard Mensah) shows up, there’s a sliver of hope for Joe and his quest for someone he can confide in.
Elsewhere, the sayings of schoolteachers are presented as though nothing has changed over the decades in classrooms – the bell is still for the teacher, not the pupils, and while one of the many rules is ‘Walk, don’t run!’ I can imagine there were detentions in store for those who had to slow their run to a walk because they reached their destinations late. My favourite is, ‘Would you do that at home?’ to which my response decades ago was, ‘No. But I don’t wear school uniform or stand behind my chair and wait at home either’. Aosaf Afzal’s Raj, the local shopkeeper, is delightfully hammy and cheery. Mrs Trafe’s (Emma Matthews) canteen is perennially filled with unappetising dishes, perhaps the one gag that started to get a tad overcooked (so to speak).
Some upbeat musical numbers add to the slick and upbeat nature of this production. One would need the sheer wealth of Joe’s Dad to not have to worry about money at all. But it is true to say that money can’t purchase contentment, or strong family ties. Heartfelt and amusing, the show effectively asks its audiences to consider what is truly important in life. It’s a little zany in places, but an enjoyable production nonetheless.
Review by Chris Omaweng
Billionaire Boy tells the story of Joe Spud, who is twelve years old and the richest boy in the country. He has his own sports car, two crocodiles as pets and £100,000 a week pocket money. But what Joe doesn’t have is a friend. So he decides to leave his posh school and start at the local comp. But things don’t go as planned for Joe and life becomes a rollercoaster as he tries find what money can’t buy!
Bloomsbury Theatre – 15 Gordon Street, London, WC1H 0AH
13 December 2019 – 5 January 2020
Press performance: Thursday 19 December at 7pm
Box Office: 020 3108 1000