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David Walliams ‘The Boy in the Dress’ comes alive on stage.
The RSC’s new musical The Boy In The Dress has recently opened at The Royal Shakespeare Theatre and so we took the opportunity to whizz along the M40 to Stratford-upon-Avon (2 hours or so from London) and review.
Adapted by ‘Shopping and F**king’ playwright Mark Ravenhill from the David Walliams novel and with music and lyrics by Robbie Williams and Guy Chambers, director Gregory Doran and the RSC team are clearly looking for a follow-up to their hugely successful adaptation of Roald Dahl’s ‘Matilda’ with Walliams the closest successor we have for Dahl with his kid-centric and irreverent sense of humour.
The show is centred around the character of Dennis, a young teenage lad who is the star of the school football team, played on the evening we visited by Tom Lomas in a winningly unaffected performance. Dennis’ mother has just walked out on the family and he finds himself emotionally stranded with a lorry driver dad who doesn’t do feelings (sensitively played by Rufus Hound) and his boorish yet innocent older brother John (Alfie Jukes).
Dennis finds himself drawn to women’s fashion choosing a copy of Vogue over his football magazine and aided and abetted by school heartthrob Lisa James, sassily played by Tabitha Knowles, he decides to go to school in an orange sequinned dress and matching wig masquerading as Lisa’s French exchange with predictably tragi-comic results. There are some hints as to why Dennis might be drawn to cross-dressing but it is explored less than in Walliams’ book giving the show a degree of emotional shallowness.
However, the production fizzes with energy built around a mixed bag of songs, terrific dancing – especially the football matches – and designer Robert Jones’ wonderfully kinetic pop-up picture book set with rows of 2 up 2 down houses totally integrated into this high-energy production. Songs such as camptastic Disco Symphony contain the Williams/Chambers magic but some slip into local panto territory and need reworking. The comic numbers are amongst the strongest. Forbes Masson excels as the evil headmaster Mr Hawtrey, channelling Mr Price from Please Sir on steroids, and his two features I Hate Kids and A Life of Discipline are highlights.
Special mention must go to Shivain Kara-Patel as Dennis’ best friend Darvesh who demonstrates a touching acceptance of his friend’s dress choices, and Charlotte Wakefield as the emotional Francophile French teacher Miss Windsor who is crushed by Dennis/Denise’s put down of her French accent.
There have been a series of commercially successful films, plays and musicals looking at gender stereotypes including Bend It Like Beckham, Billy Elliot and Jamie, so The Boy In The Dress is a good bet for the RSC as their new flagship family show. The show’s simple message of acceptance has a real appeal for younger audiences who on the night we visited responded very positively. One for the kids or grandkids!
Royal Shakespeare Company
Royal Shakespeare Theatre,
Stratford-upon-Avon CV37 6BB
8 November 2019 – 8 March 2020
Looking for somewhere to eat in Stratford? We recommend the restaurant at Hotel Indigo – find out more about the Woodsman Restaurant from the team who run the 2 Michelin Starred Ledbury and the Michelin Starred Harwood Arms in London