The Boy In The Dress Review

Hot off on the back of Matilda's success both in the UK and beyond, the Royal Shakespeare Company now turn to the modern-day Roald Dahl and give The Boy In The Dress, a novel by David Walliams, a dazzling musical adaptation.
The Company of The Boy in the Dress. Photo by Manuel Harlan (C) RSC.
Mark Ravenhill has done a fantastic job of adapting the novel. The script is witty and full of great humour in keeping with the book. There are jokes and lines that land both with the young and the older audience members and it's a joy to hear roars of laughter from all ages. Director Greg Doran has clearly had a fun time working on this show.

We follow 12-year-old Dennis, the school football team's star striker. After his mum leaves home he begins finds things difficult. The only reminder he has of his mum is a family photo where she's wearing a bright yellow dress. A similar dress appears on the new edition of Vogue magazine on sale at the local newsagent. He meets Lisa James in detention and she is sketching a new dress, a dress she asks if Dennis will model. After he turns up at school in the dress disguised as a French exchange student and is ultimately found out, he is expelled leaving his Dad unimpressed and his team's chance of winning to the football final in tatters.

It's a clever tale of acceptance and the message of being who you want to be is one that resonates with everybody. After Dennis bemoans the style choice boys get Lisa James reassures him that "I love putting on dresses and I bet some boys would too, it's not a big deal".

Enhancing the plot is a fabulous soundtrack of songs written by Guy Chambers and Robbie Williams. The numbers they've created are tremendous. Two numbers in particular "Is There Anything More Beautiful Than Lisa James" and "Disco Symphony" you'll be humming all the way home. The latter is the show's standout number, it could easily be a chart-topping hit. "A House Without A Mum" is a lovely number, as the family sing of their connection and the Dad struggling to come to terms with his responsibility without Mum. The off-stage musicians make a fantastic sound under the musical direction of Alan Williams.

Designer Robert Jones makes the world come to life brilliantly. The set fits in with the original novel illustrations by Quentin Blake. It's a pop-up book of visual treats. The football sequences are ingeniously staged. The "Disco Symphony" sequence sets the auditorium into a dazzling world of glitter balls and sequins.
Tabitha Knowles (Lisa James) and Toby Mocrei (Dennis). Photo by Manuel Harlan. (C) RSC.
It's the young performers who carry much of the show and it's a huge credit to Toby Mocrei (who shares the role with 3 other boys) who is outstanding as Dennis. He sings beautifully well and his acting is more akin to a seasoned star than someone of younger years. Toby shows every bit of star quality. Tabitha Knowles as Lisa James does a perfect job. She is clearly a talented dancer and singer. She is a great fit with Toby's Dennis. Together the pair sing the number "When Things Fall Apart" to great aplomb. Alfie Jukes charms with comic timing and another strong vocal as older brother John, he certainly deserves a magnum or three for his performance.

Rufus Hound hits every right emotion as Dad. He portrays a man hiding his true emotions really well, particularly as he sings about "losing life's lottery" during the number "A House Without a Mum". Irvine Iqbal gives a likeable crowd-pleasing turn as shop owner Raj, with some big bushy eyebrows and a million special offers including "three for the price of two". Natasha Lewis sings a storm and is the epitome of an embarrassing parent as Darvesh's mum. Charlotte Wakefield brings great warmth to Miss Windsor, she's the kind of teacher you'd want to have. Her fragility comes to the fore during "Miss Windsor's Belle Chanson" and shows off her strong vocal range.

Forbes Masson is brilliantly cast as headteacher Mr Hawtrey. He's stern, strict and relishes every moment as the production's pantomime style villain especially during his act one number "I Hate Kids". The character's unexpected turn of loving to wear dresses (or a blouse and skirt) is delightfully performed as Mr Hawtrey and Raj reprise the act one closing number with "A Man in a Dress".

A strong youthful-looking company give energy to the production. Christina Modestou makes for a fun Miss Bresslaw, Grace Wylde and Charlotte Jaconelli characterise the asbo-twins well and Max Gill is warm as dumbfounded Big Mac who falls for Dennis when he's under the disguise. Ben Thompson does some magnificent puppetry with the dog Oddbod.

As in fitting with the show's final number "Extraordinary" the show is just that. It's is a joy from the get-go and warms the hearts of all ages in the audience.  A roaring standing ovation of approval ends the evening on a high. It's the perfect family show, marvellous escapism. You're going to want to "dance, dance, dance" your way to Stratford-Upon-Avon and catch it.

Rating: ★★★★★ - a joyous heartwarming triumph. Sensational theatre for all ages.

The Boy in the Dress continues at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-Upon-Avon until March 8th 2020. Visit https://www.rsc.org.uk/ for more information and tickets.
Forbes Masson (Mr Hawtrey). Photo by Manuel Harlan (C) RSC

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