A show worth more than its weight in gold (or toilet rolls)
The latest production from the stable of David Walliams and Birmingham Stage is the tale of Joe Spud (Matthew Gordon - Bee Eaters, Roost), the son of the self made Billionaire Dad (Matthew Mellalieu - Holby City, Still Open All Hours, Doctors) and his quest to find what we all really want, a friend who will like him for who he is, not just because his dad is super rich.
The family fortune came about when Spud Sr invented Bum Fresh, the toilet paper that wet cleans and dries all in one sheet. Now living in a huge mansion, Joe finds himself surrounded by all the gadgets, gizmos, games machines and toys, yet still very lonely; his dad sees buying things as the way to alleviate this but to Joe money can't, nor should, it buy him a friend. He decides to leave the very expensive private school (where he is incessantly bullied, not for being rich, but for not being Posh and rich) and enrolls at the local comprehensive, determined to make a new start and not to let anyone find out who he really is.
Immediately Joe finds a kindred spirit in Bob (Jake Lomas - Horrible Christmas), another for whom the school cross country is more a 3 mile torture session than PE. Initially all seems well, but then, a misguided attempt by Joe to fend off the school bullies (by giving them lots of cash) backfires and Bob shuns him. Add to this, his dad has a new girlfriend, Sapphire (Rosie Coles - Alladin, Nell Gwynn, Doctors) who finds all this wealth very attractive.
Joe's usual lonely school life ensues, until he bumps into Jayden (Matthew Chase, yet another Matthew, boy the rehearsals must have been difficult for Director Neal Foster) the cool new kid at school who instantly befriends Joe. Seems like Joe has finally found a friend. Add to that, the teacher who Joe does not like suddenly is fired. However things aren't quite as they would seem, for it is Joe's dad who has had a hand in most of the 'good fortune' recently come Joe's way.
Seeking solace at the local corner shop, Joe confides in Raj (the brilliant Tuhin Chisti - Mr Naidu in Around the World in 80 days) who tries to explain that real friends may fall out but they never truly leave each other and he should try and patch things up with Bob. Just then, the bottom falls out of the Bumfresh fortune (sorry), leaving Joe and his Dad penniless, homeless and pondering just who are their real friends after all.
The story is a great modern fable about friends, bullies and bog roll; beware those so shallow as to only see you for what you have, not who you are.
The cast & ensemble are super slick at switching between roles, performing the scene changes, providing background depth and making the whole production feel twice as large as it is. The brilliant set and costumes, designed by Jacqueline Trousdale and lit by Jason Taylor keep the comic feelings of the original Tony Ross illustrations; towers of toilet rolls form the Spud mansion, robots and gaming set ups show the masses of 'things' and the morph into the school is simplistic genius.
The audience, as one would expect, was largely made up of young people - 6 to 16 being the main age group, but there is more than enough story, funnies and even pathos to keep adults fully engaged too. My granddaughter (6 this week) loved it, it is the 1st show that has captured her attention from beginning to end and all the way home in the car too.
David Walliams and Birmingham Stage have a fabulous partnership; any show with their two names are a guarantee for a great evening.