Review: Billionaire Boy at NST City

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80%
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Great

Stellar performances and a heartfelt message make this a production worth 'a billion bucks'.

Children’s literature has always been a big part of who I am today, and what I believe in. I read as much Jacqueline Wilson and Roald Dahl as I could while I was a poor kid growing up in outer London, and their stories provided young me with adventure and comfort. I couldn’t help but immediately compare these two authors with the works of David Walliams, wondering if it was a superficial attempt to continue such a style with the new generation. Walliam’s ‘Billionare Boy’, however, placed a childlike smile on me throughout the whole thing.

First, the lyrics adapted from the novel were witty, smart, relevant and simply fun. There was just enough edgy, pre-pubescent voice breaks and dramatic storm outs to bring me back to my school days. It is set in London, and follows a a boy named Joe, who is the richest little boy in the world; his father is the inventor of ‘Bum Fresh’, an actually pretty smart invention of toilet roll being wet on one side, and dry on the other. Its comical elements were balanced with sombre tones, highlighting the disparity between this ‘Billionaire Boy’, and Bob, who lives in a one room flat with his single mother and is bullied at school for being fat. Joe wants to be ordinary, and doesn’t want to be only liked for his money. There were admittedly, at times, eye rolls from the audience at ‘how bad’ the rich little boy has it. But the actors gave depth to each character and the lyrics allowed perspectives from all sides, understanding the socio-economic situations in various ways. It explored sensitive issues that families in London still go through today: from something as small as not being able to afford a P.E. kit, hating your form tutor and falling in love for the first time knowing they’re ‘the one’, to more serious issues like the difficulty of being a single parent, being a good parent, and the effects of bullying on self esteem and building valuable friendships. It brought me back to my school days in Feltham at 13 years old, bunking off class at the back of the field and selling off cigarettes I stole from my mum, thinking I was the coolest, but also being the fat kid that started growing boobs too early and couldn’t make lasting friendships in my own year. Maybe if I was a billionaire…

The cast was really amazing, though. There was such a range of actors, a range of body types and voices, and you could see each character shining through. The voices of Sophia Nomvete, who played Bob’s mum (Gwen), and Ryan Heenan, the titular billionare Joe, particularly struck me. I wouldn’t be surprised if either of them were stars we’re seeing in the future, with Sophia radiating the warmth of Queen Latifah, coupled with some amazing vocals. Lem Knight’s rendition of ‘Bob’ was a comical but warm characterisation of the awkwardness of being ‘the big kid’ in secondary school, as well as the difficulty of being the quiet but honest friend pushed into the shadows aside popularity. Bob’s dramatic storm offs were also pretty accurate, and you’d all be lying if you don’t still practice them in the fake petty arguments in your head…

Overall, I left the show with gold streaming down from the ceiling and a fresh, child-like optimism instilled, bringing me back to the days of my own childhood and reminding me of the impact children’s literature can have, especially when we add singing and dancing – and lettuce (go and watch it to know what I’m on about) into that mix.

Billionaire Boy, adapted from the book by David Walliams, is showing at the NST City until the 6th January 2019. Get tickets here.

 

 

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