Review: Billionaire Boy, Arts Centre Melbourne

Isabelle Oderberg

The David Walliams-penned tale will next year celebrate its tenth anniversary.
Review: Billionaire Boy, Arts Centre Melbourne

Christopher Vernon, Shameer Birges, Nicholas Starte, Adele Parkinson and Alfie Gledhill in Billionaire Boy. Photo by Heidrun Lohr.

The Arts Centre was full of a beautiful buzz on the first day of school holidays, the kids evidently stoked at the prospect of seeing the theatre production of blockbuster kids book Billionaire Boy.

The David Walliams-penned tale will next year celebrate its tenth anniversary and has become a cult classic, even spawning a TV special starring Walliams himself, as well as Catherine Tate and Warwick Davis.

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But there are a few problems with this stage production.

The biggest problem is the total lack of interaction with the audience. Kids don’t have the same staying power as adults and it takes a little more work to keep them engaged, especially for a whole hour.

There was only one instance of audience inclusion or encouragement of interaction with the show. Other than that, the kids were purely spectators and it resulted in the onset of noticeable fatigue, wandering attention, fidgeting and rustling around three quarters of the way through the show.

The other frustrating aspect was that while it’s no issue for actors to play multiple roles, it was a real stretch to have the bearded actor who played the main protagonist’s father (who by the way did a great job) also playing a 15-year-old kid. Remember now: the primary audience is children, six years and up. There was audible confusion.

I was also a tad uncomfortable during the scenes featuring “Raj’s shop” with a terrible Indian-accented, over-the-top, stereotype of a character. It’s 2019 and this is a room full of our best impressionables. I felt like we could do better.

The show is a much simpler story than the book, making it easier to follow but there’s basically one key point: money is bad. The issue of bullying isn’t really dealt with in any sophisticated way, but I suppose there’s a limit to what you can do with just one hour on stage.

Having said all of that, the cast were energetic and convincing. The kids all seemed to enjoy the show and the musical numbers in particular were a great hit.

If you are planning to head down, also make sure you check out Feast, a free interactive installation by the brilliant Polyglot Theatre, where kids can create their own delicious (or disgusting!) feast out of paper and craft materials, inspired by the dodgy school canteen in the book.

It was one of the highlights of our morning.

2 stars ★★

Billionaire Boy

6-14 April 2019

Arts Centre Melbourne

About the author

A veteran journalist, Isabelle Oderberg is a comedy fanatic and has been reviewing comedy for six years. She also reviews restaurants, opera and theatre.