Billionaire Boy (King's Theatre Glasgow)
What’s the first thing you think of when you hear the word “billionaire”? Celebrity? Technology? Taxes? But as a child, the idea of being a billionaire just means having as much fun as you want, whenever you want. In this musical adaptation of David Walliams massively popular children’s book we meet Joe; the son of a toilet paper innovator, he has everything he could ever want, except a friend.
Though I haven’t read the novel, I’m fairly confident that this adaptation has stuck rigorously to the source material. In fact, it seems almost scared to part with it. There are parts that so clearly work better on paper than they do on stage, such as Joe’s robot, which in a show translates to an actor making robotic movements in a biker suit with a helmet over their face. But the real problem is one that is present throughout the show; it lacks theatrical endeavour. Adapter and director Neal Foster delivers a very literal interpretation of the story, lacking the dynamic dramaturgy and sparkling stage images which audiences have come to expect from large touring musicals. It is engaging enough and the set design (which consists of vast turreted sculptures of bog roll) is creative, but it never feels eventful or climactic.
The cast does the best with the material they have; Jason Furnival delivers a lively performance as Joe’s father,and Rosie Coles has great comic timing as his girlfriend Sapphire. Even so, it is a pity that one of the few female characters in this show aimed at children is an out-dated gold-digger stereotype.
An inescapable awkwardness of the casting and performances is the child characters. The logistics of casting real children are, I’m sure, nightmarish, but the outcome of having adults in the roles is that they all give the same performance; whiny, slouched, and borderline patronising. Matthew Gordon as the billionaire boy himself is occasionally funny with Dudley Dursley-esque qualities, but often seems lost on the stage, as though unsure exactly why he is in school uniform waving his arms around in a musical number about a dinner lady.
Ironically, the high points of the show are the bitter jokes about the mega-wealthy snuck in by presumably left-wing theatre-makers. I’ve written before about how important Children’s theatre is, but while there are companies like Tortoise in a Nutshell creating imaginative and intelligent work, Billionaire Boy only serves up a school-lunch serving of bland but filling entertainment. Three stars.
Whispers from the Crowd:
"I liked Sapphire, she was really good."
Woman: "Did you like it?"
Young girl: *shakes her head softly*