MATTHEW Mellalieu will be playing the theatre closest to his home on the 2022 tour of David Walliams’ Billionaire Boy from July 14 to 17.
North Yorkshire-born Matt, who moved from London to Nether Poppleton after the first pandemic lockdown, takes the role of dad Len Spud in Birmingham Stage Company’s stage adaptation when visiting the Grand Opera House, York, next week.
Billionaire Boy’s four-day run follows the Birmingham company’s February tour with Walliams’ Gangsta Granny. “I was aware of David Walliams popularity with children, but I hadn’t realised just how big his stories were with families in general,” he says.
“After I’d accepted the job, I told my housemate, who’s a teacher, and when he mentioned it at school, all the children were so excited, asking who I’d be playing!
“Until playing Len, I hadn’t been aware just how prolific David Walliams had been, writing stories with all that gross-out comedy that children adore, making him the successor to Roald Dahl. What I love is that there’s all that comedy but there’s quite a lot of needled political comment going on too.”
In Walliams’ story, 12-year-old Joe Spud is the richest boy in the country, with his own sports car, two pet crocodiles and £100,000 a week pocket money, but what he lacks is a friend. Whereupon he decides to leave his posh school for the local comp, but things do not go as planned, his life becoming a roller coaster as he tries to find what money cannot buy.
“His dad, Len, like many of us, had found himself in a day-to-day job that had never really changed,” says Matt. “His job was to wrap the paper around the toilet roll day after day, but one day he was struck by an idea: inventing toilet roll that is moist one side and dry on the other, making billions of pounds for himself as he opened the Bum Fresh factory.
“In fact, he makes so much money, he has no idea what to do with it all, so he buys the biggest house and a Formula One race track, has a robot butler, the biggest TV set in the world and a swimming pool, but the crux of the matter is that now they’ve moved to a new place, they have no friends.
“He feels that to be a good dad, he needs to buy Joe all the things he never had as a child, but Joe only wants friends and the love of his dad, yet Len doesn’t realise that. It’s very much a story about friendship and love being important and money not being the be all and end all.”
Billionaire Boy first went on the road in 2019 and touring has resumed since lockdown restrictions were eased. “I joined the cast in January with only two weeks of rehearsals in London – where I first moved to go to drama school – and those rehearsals were really fast-tracked with half the company having been in the show since 2019,” says Matt.
“When Covid happened, they first re-started the show by performing off the back of a lorry, and now they’re resuming the original tour.
“What I’ve found with this show is you may have an idea of how a show will be; you may have a rough idea of what a kids’ show is, when I haven’t really done them, but have lots of Shakespeare on my CV, but then you discover this is a proper West End show, like a big musical, not just something for school halls.”
As for the play itself, suitable for five-year-olds upwards, Matt says: “The reason that Shakespeare still works so well is that you’re dealing with archetypes, and then you realise that Billionaire Boy isn’t a million miles away from Shakespeare. It’s looking at relationships, though there’s none of the blood and murders! But there are grotesque bullies, just like in Shakespeare, and I play the bullies in this show as well as Len.
“The art of storytelling never changes; Walliams tells stories, with spectacle and yukky comedy, just as Shakespeare re-told Greek tales. Stories are ingrained in us and we all think about who we are, what we mean to our friends and family and where our place in the world is, but with a few good f**t gags or a song or a spectacle every five minutes in Walliams’ case to keep the kids engaged!”
Looking back on his own childhood, growing up in the fishing village of Robin Hood’s Bay, Matt says: “From a very early age, with friends and family at home, we told stories and made up our own sketches and interviews that my mum and dad filmed on a full-scale VHS camera and then we’d watch them back.”
And so began the performing career of Matthew Mellalieu that now brings him to the Grand Opera House, York, in Billionaire Boy. Performances are at 1.30pm and 7pm, July 14; 10.30am and 7pm, July 15; 2.30pm and 7pm, July 16, and 11am and 3pm, July 17. Box office: atgtickets.com/York.