This isn’t a sponsored post.
BrumHour was invited to see the official opening night performance of The Boy in the Dress by The RSC.
By Dave Massey twitter.com/BrumHour
The Boy in the Dress at
Directed by Gregory Doran, book by Mark Ravenhill, music and lyrics by Robbie Williams, Guy Chambers and Chris Heath, based on the novel by David Walliams
A full-on musical about identity, The Boy in the Dress has arrived at The RSC in Stratford-upon-Avon and is playing until 8th March 2020. At first glance, the story is about 12-year-old Dennis (Jackson Laing), a passionate and talented footballer dealing with his mother seemingly abandoning him, his older brother John (Zachary Loonie) and his hardworking dad (Rufus Hound) who is gorging on food to cope.
Dennis’ dad tries to burn photos of his mother and Dennis becomes fixated with a yellow dress in one of the photos and hides the photo. At the local newsagents, Dennis buys a copy of Vogue with a yellow dress on the cover from Raj (Irvine Iqbal) saying it is for a friend’s birthday. At school, Dennis finds himself in detention talking to popular Lisa (Asha Banks) about fashion. Lisa gets Dennis to visit her house and encourages him to try on an orange dress she has. She then gets him to go to school and pose as a French exchange student – in a wig a French beret and the orange dress…
This is a beautifully created production with tonnes of heart and blistering energy. There is a more of a message than the previous David Walliams productions I’ve reviewed (Awful Auntie and more recently Billionaire Boy). Being yourself, expressing yourself and exploring what that means. Then sharing who you are with other people.
There are standout performances and vocals from the performers including Darvesh’s Mum (Natasha Lewis) and, the “school kids”. The football match choreography is fantastically realised with the football on a stick to ensure movements are consistent.
This is set in a grey identikit town, where on the surface, the people are all the same, The Boy in the Dress, makes great use of colour, from the moment we see Lisa’s bedroom into a fantastic dreamlike disco ball sequence. There are moments for the audience to cheer and ones where I wanted to boo panto-style. (This is a Stratford-upon-Avon audience so everyone seems rather polite!). BOO!
I’d liked to have seen even more diversity and gender role balance. In this, boys don’t cry and play football, while girls stand on the side of the pitch as St John Ambulance types. This reinforces ideas about gender roles. It is also fairly blurred what year this is set, but there are no smartphones and people read magazines and newspapers. Plus the corner shop is full of jars of sweets like the 60s to mid-late 1980s.
The golden musical partnership of Robbie Williams and Guy Chambers can be heard throughout, but it never dilutes the authentic and direct storytelling of David Walliams.
I loved every second of this vibrant and utterly charming musical and can’t wait to own (stream) the soundtrack. Well worth a visit to Stratford-upon-Avon.
The Boy in the Dress is at The RSC’s Royal Shakespeare Theatre until 8th March 2020. Book tickets here: rsc.org.uk/the-boy-in-the-dress-musical
This isn’t a sponsored post.
When not writing about theatre for BrumHour, or producing Interval Theatre for Brum Radio (Tuesdays 3pm) brumradio.com/intervaltheatre,
Dave Massey can be found eating crisps and tweeting about Birmingham for #BrumHour.