David Walliams is on a roll. The celebrated comedian, talent show judge and writer closed last year as the country's biggest-selling author for the second year running, which is not surprising given global sales of his books have reached thirty-two million copies.
His story Billionaire Boy, which was adapted for television, is now touring the UK in a brand-new adaptation from the acclaimed producers Birmingham Stage Company, and can be seen at the Wyvern Theatre in Swindon from Wednesday 23 to Saturday 26 February.
This will be the third of his books to get be staged by the Birmingham Stage Company, following the success of Gangsta Granny and Awful Auntie. What does David think about seeing his stories take the leap from the page to performance?
“It’s the most brilliant thing, seeing a book that you’ve written come to life on stage”, he explains. “You feel like a magician because what was in your head is somehow now all real, right in front of you, so it is a very exciting thing.”
Billionaire Boy was David's third book and tells the story of Joe Spud, a boy who is wealthy beyond anyone's wildest dreams. But it's not a typical rags to riches story. "The reason Joe is a billionaire is because his father, Len Spud, who was just a humble man who worked in a factory, came up with this brilliant idea of a creating a special toilet roll which is moist on one side and dry on the other.”
It sounds lovely, but would it be David’s brand of choice? “I think this is a fantastic invention and I cannot believe someone hasn’t come to me and given me a billion pounds for the idea because, if it was produced, I think it would really catch on. But I liked it being something like this from which they made their money. When you sometimes meet people who have lots and lots of money you find it’s really bizarre things that they do. I met someone who was really rich and it was because their father provides toilet roles to lots of pubs in the north of England and I thought, I could do that, but I didn’t have the idea.”
So what would David buy today if he was given a billion pounds? “There’s one thing that Joe Spud, has in the book which is a water slide going down from his bedroom to a swimming pool. He just gets out of bed and goes straight down a water slide. That is something I don’t have and it really pains me. So if I had a billion pounds to spend today I’d get that water slide because water slides are so much fun. I love them!”
Many of David's stories have an epic quality, which hasn't made it easy for the experienced theatre producers, particularly when it comes to landing a helicopter on stage. “The thing is that when I write the books, I’m not thinking much beyond them being books. And, of course, in children’s books you want to have lots of really exciting things happening like helicopters and fast cars and I know that does create problems for people staging it. But the brilliant thing about theatre is that with imagination, anything can be done.”
The billionaire boy Joe encounters some fantastic characters on his journey and David can't resist talking about one in particular. “My favourite character in the story of Billionaire Boy is Mrs Trafe, the dinner lady and I actually played her in the television adaption.” Ask him why he likes her so much and he will explain, “In the story she asks Joe for money which she says she needs for a hip operation but instead she spends it on plastic surgery. It was a lot of fun creating her horrible school dinners, giving her the surgery in the book and seeing what she does with the money.”
Yet as so often in his stories, there's a more to Mrs Trafe's character than simply providing laughs. “It highlights the fact that Joe’s in a pretty difficult predicament because everyone is asking him for money and they all have good reasons why they need it. But at the same time money is quite a corrupting thing and it makes people do bad things and lie to him. Mrs Trafe is really a side character but she does something pretty important in the story.”
This will be David's third partnership with the Birmingham Stage Company, who also produce all the Horrible Histories shows live on stage. It was their West End production of Barmy Britain where David first saw their work. “The Birmingham Stage Company have already done two incredible adaptations of my books, Gangsta Granny and Awful Auntie, both of which went round the country a few times, came into London and got great reviews. Audiences loved the shows and came back and back and back, so I’m really excited that a third book of mine is in their hands!”
And he has high expectations for the show. “I think this could the most fun show of all because in a way this is the most comic book. It’s a story with an emphasis on jokes and silly situations and obviously the whole thing is quite surreal with someone having so much money. I think it’s going to be a really fun theatre show.”
With David’s brilliant ideas and Birmingham’s Stage’s world-wide reputation for staging family theatre, it's a partnership that looks likely to continue for a long time yet.
Tickets are available from https://swindontheatres.co.uk/Online/tickets-billionaire-boy-swindon-2020