Anyone for snot macaroni and toenail ice-cream? Paul Thomason experiences the gross-out fun of watching David Walliams’ story live on stage.
Less than a week after children all over the land have been going to school dressed as one of many of David Walliams’ characters for World Book Day 2022, this musical adaptation by Neal Foster of one of his early novels, Billionaire Boy, arrives at the Palace Theatre. The lead character here, Joe Spud (Matthew Gordon), would have been ideal for a last minute emergency costume because the 12-year-old is only ever seen dressed in a school uniform.
The uniform itself does change, because initially Joe attends Saint Cuthbert’s the most expensive school in the country, but given his father (Matthew Mellalieu) has earned his vast fortune by inventing Bum Fresh toilet tissue, Joe doesn’t fit in with the offspring of the landed gentry and is outcast for being from new money. With the children taking time out from their fox-hunting and tax-avoidance lessons to call him insulting names, such as ‘Bum Boy’, Joe wants to leave for the local comprehensive so he can find a friend. He does so rather quickly after bonding with Bob (Jake Lomas) when, as the two most overweight children in the year group, they trail in last in the cross country PE race. How they deal with bullies, school life, secrets and each other forms the main narrative and the themes of what money can or can not buy.
Gordon and Lomas both turn in vibrant yet sympathetic performances that come with a hint of desperation that have the crowd willing their friendship to succeed. The original songs by Jak Poore are performed with great enthusiasm by the whole cast. In particular, Emma Matthews provides an entertaining Mrs Trafe, the Dinner Lady serving up a vast list of gruesome school meals including snot macaroni and toenail ice-cream. There were also plenty of laughs of acknowledgement to the song made up of typical schoolteacher sayings like, ‘walk don’t run’.
Jacqueline Trousdale has designed an imaginative set made up of boxes and stacked toilet rolls that switches from the Bum Fresh Towers mansion, to the schools and the corner shop owned by optimistic Raj (Tuhin Chisti).
If you are familiar with any of Walliams work you will have a good idea of the juvenile toilet humour, stereotypes and child-friendly gross out gags that are littered throughout. First and foremost though, this is a show for children, the vast majority of whom will have enjoyed at least one of his books previously and will be well aware of what to expect. Judging by the kids reactions at the end, they thoroughly enjoyed themselves and go home feeling grateful that their favourite toy isn’t a rocket made of cardboard loo roll inserts.
Billionaire Boy is at The Palace Theatre, Manchester from 9-12 March 2022 and touring.