Tag Archives: Luke Sheppard

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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This Charming Man

NIGHT MUST FALL

Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, Wednesday 28th September, 2016

 

The Original Theatre company, purveyors of classic plays, now brings us Emlyn Williams’s 1935 thriller, in their solid and dependable – and entertaining! – fashion.  Directed by Luke Sheppard, the production is not short on tension and suspense, even if you know who the murderer is – or perhaps especially because of this knowledge.  Sheppard also brings out the humour of Williams’s script via an ensemble of superlative character actors.

Gwen Taylor stars as the irascible Mrs Bramson, a grumpy curmudgeon who has to pay people to spend time with her.  This includes her niece as well as the domestic staff.  Taylor brings energy to this hypochondriac harridan and we enjoy seeing her taken in when psychopathic Dan plays to her vanities.

Niamh McGrady is bookish niece Olivia, the voice of reason in the piece, although she is seduced by the dark side into acts of moral ambivalence.  Alasdair Buchan’s Hubert, a hapless suitor, is all plus fours and bluff bonhomie, while Daragh O’Malley’s Inspector Belsize has an easy powerfulness to his presence.  Anne Odeke is good fun as Nurse Libby in her brief appearances, while Melissa Vaughan’s housemaid Dora, a girl ‘in trouble’ thanks to the aforementioned psycho, is chirpily melodramatic.  Most enjoyable though is Mandi Symonds as housekeeper/cook Mrs Terence, an hilarious counterpart to Taylor’s old battle-ax.

It is Will Featherstone who commands the attention as the enigmatic and charming chancer, Dan who, having got Dora up the duff, insinuates himself into the household as a companion/carer for the old woman.  On the surface, Dan is a lively, funny presence but Olivia’s suspicions are aroused at once.  Featherstone gives us charm and an undercurrent of threat, breaking out into flashes of insanity and derangement.  It’s a compelling portrayal of a psychopathic character – pre-Hitchcock, it has to be noted – and also Williams’s script seems to be a precursor of the comedy of menace of Harold Pinter, with its naturalistic turns of phrase and its violent outbursts.

The production grips, amuses and thrills, showing the play still works like a charm and with its theme of our fascination with murder, it is still current, both admonishing the audience’s appetite for such subject matter and giving us exactly what we want.

'Night Must Fall' Tour

Will Featherstone as Dan (Photo: Alastair Muir)