Dressed for success at the RSC

I SUSPECT it won’t have escaped your notice when David Walliams’ best-selling 2008 children’s book was brought to Stratford’s RSC stage with a fanfare a few weeks ago. (If so, where were you?)

This much-anticipated adaptation of The Boy In A Dress by Mark Ravenhill (with music by Guy Chambers and Robbie Williams) is a cheery tuneful unapologetic celebration of individuality and non-conformism – a delicious message that’s embraced at every spot-lit turn.

The Boy In The Dress, RSC, David Walliams, Robbie Williams
Jackson Laing as Dennis.

Williams’ score, written with collaborator Guy Chambers, is a splendid fit, with its pleasing medley of soul, funk and brit pop — with even some rap thrown in – to complete the package.

The show’s score stays true to the simplicity of the show (simplicity is a compliment in this instance!) from the wistful nostalgia of A House Without A Mum to the rousing anthem of You Can’t Expel Us. And the beautifully phrased opening number Ordinary is effective in quickly setting the tone as we settle down to a two-hour journey of emotional exploration.

The story centres on 12-year-old Dennis, a star striker in the school football team but who is struggling to come to terms with his mother’s sudden estrangement.

His life takes on a new direction when he discretely purchases his first copy of Vogue magazine after being drawn in by its fashion shot cover. Dennis’s fascination with fashion triggers a friendship with Lisa James, the much swooned-after fellow pupil, who charms him into trying on a dress of her own design. From that moment he is hooked on female fashion – and his much-maligned alter ego is born.

The Boy In The Dress, RSC, David Walliams, Robbie Williams
Grace Wild and Tabitha Knowles as Louise and Lisa

RSC director Gregory Doran’s renowned golden touch keeps things moving at pace with the assistance of Aletta Collins whose inventive football scene choreography ‘scores’ a theatre first as far as I’m aware.

Robert Jones’s set design beautifully catches the enchanting spirit of Quentin Blake’s book illustrations and, all aspects of the production combine to permeate the passions and emotions of even the hardest of hearts.

As such, it’s the perfect antidote to the new year blues, a simply irresistible family feast of entertainment that won’t fail to have your feet tapping and your heart skipping in equal measure.

One of four young actors in the role, ‘our’ Dennis was played on the night by the excellent Jackson Laing. An assured yet immediately loveable portrayal that offered real resonance as a boy overcoming ridicule – and his own insecurities – to champion individualism.

He was more than ably supported by Alfie Jukes as his older brother John and Tabitha Knowles as warm-hearted Lisa James.

The Boy In The Dress, RSC, David Walliams, Robbie Williams

These are characters that children and parents across the land are all too familiar with so it was important we warm to them – and we did. As one such parent, I was excited to finally ‘meet’ a living breathing version of Raj, the only consistent character throughout Walliams’ stories (and I’ve read most!) And Irvine Iqbal didn’t disappoint as the whimsical corner shop keeper, who prompted many of the night’s belly laughs.

Could the new artistic pairing of Williams and Walliams be the start of something big? If this dazzling production is anything to go by, I certainly hope so. Does the West End beckon?

The Boy In The Dress plays at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon until March 8th. Tickets are still available for some shows at: www.rsc.org.uk

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