3 Feb 2020
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The Boy in the Dress – Review Round-up

The witty writing of David Walliams, the power-pop music of Robbie Williams and the stage pedigree of the Royal Shakespeare Company. The result of this remarkable collaboration of British entertainment megastars is The Boy in the Dress – a new musical based on Walliams’ novel of the same name, which opened at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon towards the end of last year.

Like Matilda before it, the RSC have pulled out all the stops to give this children’s book adaptation the highest production values. The story follows schoolboy and promising footballer, Dennis, whose mother has left home. Dennis inherited a love of fashion from his mother, which is encouraged by school heartthrob, Lisa. Dennis dares to challenge the drab, grey normality of British school life by wearing a sequined orange dress to school, causing an uproar but proving the importance of being yourself and accepting difference.

Toby Mocrei as Dennis in The Boy in the Dress at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon

The Boy in the Dress is rumoured to be coming to London sometime after its run in Stratford-upon-Avon. To find out what West End theatre-goers can expect when this new musical arrives, we have looked at a selection of reviews of the RSC production.

Sarah Probert of The Birmingham Mail was thoroughly impressed. In her glowing 5-star review she wrote that “Gregory Doran’s beautifully directed production breathes new life into the book and touches a nerve – a desire to be kinder to one another.” She was particularly impressed with the young stars she saw, writing “Jackson Laing is the huge star of the show as Dennis, belting out song after song, and perfectly matched with the equally talented Asha Banks as Lisa James. Both clearly have a bright future.

Sam Bennett, writing for Ox Magazine, was similarly his impressed. He gave the show 4-stars and described it as “one of the most wholesome productions in the UK.” Bennett’s review emphasised the importance of the show’s message, concluding that “each school kid in there was shown that difference is something to be celebrated, and that a boy in a dress is not alien. I only wish it had come along two decades ago.

One more critical review came from Ian Foster of Ought to be Clowns. Whilst praising the performances and production values, Foster felt that the themes of celebrating difference didn’t quite go far enough. He also expressed disappointment in the songs, concluding “where you’d expect the score to uplift the show and give it texture and interest, too often the songs are blandly forgettable. Sadly, it’s all a bit of a disappointment.”

The cast of The Boy in the Dress on stage at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre

In contrast, Muddy Stilettos, the well-regarded “urban guide to the countryside” enjoyed the “incredibly infectious tunes” from the show. Their reviewer also felt that the themes in the show were well-portrayed, writing “The Boy in a Dress isn’t a complex story about “issues” or gender politics, it’s a feel-good celebration of difference, identity and being yourself.”

Adrian York, writing for London Unattached, felt that the reasons for Dennis wearing a dress are not explored as deeply as in the book, but was overall impressed with the production, writing that “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.” York felt it was a terrific show for children, concluding “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!

It looks like the RSC might have another hit musical children’s book adaptation on their hands. We hope the production comes to London soon, to dare to be different on the West End and spread its message of acceptance to young London theatre-goers.

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