Tag Archives: David Walliams

Funny Money

BILLIONAIRE BOY The Musical 

Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, Wednesday 20th February, 2019

 

The children’s books of David Walliams have filled the gap left by Roald Dahl.  They are child-centred stories, with outlandish events and grotesque characters – usually the adults, save for one or two sympathetically presented ones.  Billionaire Boy the Musical  fits this mould exactly, telling the story of young Joe Spud, son of toilet-paper innovator Len, one of the richest men in the world.  For all his riches, Joe is unhappy.  He wants friends and so opts to go to the local comprehensive to make some.  It’s not long, of course, before his money gets in the way.

As Joe, Ryan Heenan is an appealing figure, boyish and with a superb singing voice that suits the rock and pop sensibilities of the score.  The songs (by Miranda Cooper and Nick Coler, with lyrics by Jon Brittain) are without exception catchy, with witty lyrics and in a range of styles.  Dean Nolan is great as the crass nouveau riche Len but seems to have the most fun as a disgusting dinner lady (imagine Matilda’s Miss Trunchbull let loose in a school kitchen!) Bringing out Len’s paternal side is the mighty Sophia Nomvete as Gwen, the Mum of Joe’s new friend Bob.  Nomvete has remarkable presence, whether she’s narrating, playing Gwen, or a more exaggerated character like the school teacher.

Lem Knights is great fun as Bob, bringing physical humour and also sensitivity to the role, while Eleanor Kane’s Lauren is cute and energetic without being too girly.  Jared Leathwood and Natalie Morgan gurn and growl as school bullies, the Grubbs. (Cast members also play musical instruments, augmenting the upstage band)

Special mention to Avita Jay, doubling as Len’s gold-digging model girlfriend Sapphire Stone and as shopkeeper Raj (a staple of Walliams’s books) working the audience and doing a lot of the frame-breaking.  This is a show that establishes a rapport with the audience without going full-on panto.  We are included in everything and somehow the overt theatricality of the piece draws us in rather than alienating us in a Brechtian fashion.

It’s a funny and engaging production.  Director Luke Sheppard keeps everything lively so when the moments of pathos come, they are all the more touching.  There’s a wealth of talent at work here in a show rich with comedy, infectious tunes and a moral, which is perhaps obvious but is not hammered home.

Working with Nuffield Southampton Theatres, the Belgrade has struck it rich with this vibrant new musical.  I loved every minute.

Ryan Heenan & Lem Knights as Joe & Bob in Billionaire Boy the Musical - credit Manuel Harlan

Golden boys Ryan Heenan as Joe and Lem Knights as Bob (Photo: Manuel Harlan)

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Nasty and Niece

AWFUL AUNTIE

Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, Wednesday 26th September, 2018

 

Birmingham Stage Company is back, following up the success of Gangsta Granny with a second alliterative title from comic actor-turned-children’s-author, David Walliams.  Walliams appears to have appointed himself the successor to Roald Dahl and his work bears many similarities to Dahl’s classic novels for children.  Chiefly, Walliams doesn’t sugar coat any aspect of his stories, populates the tales with grotesques, and places a wise child at the heart of them.  Adaptor-director Neal Foster captures the Walliams spirit superbly well, rendering the action in imaginative, theatrical ways.

This one is a grim (Grimm) melodrama that is positively Victorian in its sensationalism.  The titular aunt – Agatha Saxby – is monstrously cruel to her recently orphaned niece.  The title deeds of rambling manor Saxby Hall are at stake.  Richard James is enormous fun as this squawking villain, stomping around in plus fours and a ginger wig.  His sidekick, Wagner, is an imposing owl – and a beautiful piece of puppetry performed by Roberta Bellekom.

Georgina Leonidas instantly gains our sympathy as plucky, long-suffering heroine, 12-year-old Stella, who finds an ally in the form of friendly ghost, Soot (the likeable Ashley Cousins) a chimney sweep’s boy who came to a sticky end on the job.  The pair uncover the true extent of Auntie’s abominable activities as they clamber up and over Jacqueline Trousdale’s revolving set pieces.  The gothic events are offset by the humorous appearances of dotty retainer, Gibbon, in a hilarious turn by Harry Sutherland.

Jak Poore’s original score adds to the urgency of the action and the melodramatic atmosphere of the whole.  It may lack the warmth of Gangsta Granny, but there is plenty here to enjoy as Stella endures tribulation and trials, and Auntie gets her comeuppance in a satisfactory turn of events.

Darkly delicious with a generous helping of toilet humour and gross-out moments, Awful Auntie is awesome entertainment for the whole family.

Awful-Auntie-by-Birmingham-Stage-Company-Photo-by-Mark-Douet-_50A82121

Georgina Leonidas and Ashley Cousins try to twoc their way out of trouble (Photo: Mark Douet)


Grab This Granny

GANGSTA GRANNY

Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, Tuesday 16th February, 2016

 

Every Friday night while his parents go ballroom dancing, young Ben (Ashley Cousins) has to stay with his granny. He resents this arrangement, finding the old woman boring and smelling of the cabbage that is ubiquitous in her cuisine. In order to keep the boy on side, Granny (a lonely old woman, neglected by her son and his wife) tells Ben exciting stories of her former life as an international jewel thief. Ben is hooked. He plans the biggest heist of the lot (the theft of the crown jewels) as Granny’s comeback and swan song… but has the old girl been telling the truth?

Adapted from David Walliams’s popular children’s novel, this is a cracker of a show, crammed with things to amuse audience members of all ages. There is some delightful comic playing: Ben’s mum and dad (Laura Girling and Benedict Martin) aren’t quite in the Roald Dahl league of monstrous parents, but they flit around, selfish in their sambas, and tyrannical in their tangos. Alison Fitzjohn supports as a range of characters – her assertive Matron gets a lot of laughs – and Richard James’s Teacher and Policemen are also indicative of the versatility of the players. As Strictly-type personality Flavio, Umar Malik almost steals the show, prancing and posturing around. The cast also change the scenery – Jacqueline Trousdale’s ingenious set opens up and turns around to create a wide range of settings – and they dance their way through the transitions, keeping the mood elevated. Jak Poore’s superlative score combines heist movie suspense with ballroom rhythms and flair – irresistible.

But the show is all about the relationship between a boy and his gran. Ashley Cousins is a likeable narrator, bouncing with boyish energy and Gran (played in this performance by Louise Bailey) is full of surprises as much as flatulence, keeping to the right side of grotesque. Beneath the comedy and the adventure runs an undercurrent of loneliness and an admonition to us all to get to know the elderly before it’s too late.

Director and adaptor Neil Foster delivers high quality entertainment for all the family, balancing Walliams’s toilet humour and heart perfectly. Gangsta Granny is a funny, touching and salutary story, performed here with exuberance, great warmth and panache.

granny

 

 


Not Quite Up To Scratch

Mr. Stink

Nottingham Playhouse, Tuesday 16th August, 2011

 

The stage adaptation of a children’s novel by Little Britain’s David Walliams has, like the book, more than a whiff of Roald Dahl about it. The book’s illustrations and the show’s publicity materials boast artwork by Dahl’s distinctive illustrator, Quentin Blake, and on first glance, the story has many Dahlian aspects, but I came away not with a smell in my nose, but with a taste in my mouth – as when one bites into a pie that is all pastry and no filling.

 

A story which centres on the relationship between a lonely 12 year old girl and a homeless man, Mr Stink throws up a few questions, some of them about our society, but there is something questionable about its central message: encouraging children to befriend a tramp who will then sort out your family’s woes.  The eponymous tramp in this case is a well-spoken, ingratiating fellow, with vowels as rounded as his belly – there is no sign of super strength lager, drug addiction, mental illness or CRB check about him.  He confronts his new friend’s bully with stern words and a belch in the face.  He takes a bath in her mother’s ornamental pond.  He is as full of fun as he is of fleas.   Our heroine, Chloe, also has a friendship with the local newsagent, whose jokes are as out-of-date as the range of confectionery he purveys.  I am worried about Chloe.

 

Chloe’s mother has pretensions of being elected as a right wing candidate in the local elections.  Here the show touches on topical themes, caricaturising a certain type of middle class, Little Englander (as opposed to Little Britain). Rest assured she gets her come-uppance:  after an embarrassing appearance on Question Time, her character does a volte face and resolves to be a better wife and mother.

 

With order restored, Mr Stink, like Shane in the old western, bids farewell.  The show is in danger of lurching into sentimentalism at this point but because the characters are so broadly drawn and the emotions on the surface, it doesn’t quite get there.  And that is the problem with the show as a whole. It doesn’t quite get there.  “What are you laughing at?” asks the Duchess, Mr Stink’s puppet dog, to someone on the front row.  No one in the auditorium had made a sound.   More laughs are needed, especially in the first half – we are not revolted enough by Mr Stink neither is he all that endearing.  It is as though the script has been sanitised by an overkill of Oust!  The scratch-and-sniff booklet, in lieu of a programme, is good fun, an effective gimmick in a show poor in jokes and slapstick.  The children in the audience watched and listened, seizing on the rare instances of physical comedy.  It was the business of scratching off each new smell that gave rise to the biggest reactions.  The whole show should have been that much fun.

 

 

The cast works hard, with puppets to handle and multiple characters to portray, and their energy keeps things moving along.  The songs tend to slow things down again but the transforming doll-house style set and the lively characterisations make this a watchable, if ultimately bland, production.