BWW Review: THE BOY IN THE DRESS, Royal Shakespeare Theatre
Pure magic are the two words I would use to describe The Boy in the Dress. Appearing for the first time on stage, David Walliams' book has sold over 32 million copies worldwide. Most recently the BBC adapted it for screen, which went down very well and ensured that the story reached even more people.
Now, it is the RSC and Mark Ravenhill's turn to bring it to life, under the direction of the venue's Artistic Director Gregory Doran. It's an adventurous challenge, and clearly there has been no expense spared to ensure that the musical remains as authentic to its origins as possible.
Walliams is possibly best known for the multitude of characters he created and played in Little Britain, alongside comedy partner Matt Lucas. Quickly becoming a household name from that point on, he currently resides as a favoured judge on Britain's Got Talent and is also a multiple bestselling author. His comedic wit and delicate storytelling has led him to be a favourite and staple part of children's literature. His books discuss a whole host of things - ranging from explorations of teen anxiety to celebrations of diverse identity. It also puts characters like Gangsta Granny onto the page.
In this story, we meet Dennis: a 12-year-old, happy-go-lucky chap who is also the star striker on the school's football team. Since his mum left home he's had a rough time of things, but he is comforted by the memory of her wearing a bright yellow dress - which is similar to the one on the cover of British Vogue in the local corner shop. It's also rather similar to the design in schoolmate Lisa James's sketchbook.
So, one day, he decides to wear a dress to school, posing as a French exchange student - which goes down well before the wig coming off exposes his secret, and Dennis is expelled. Walliams' story throws questions of gender and choice into the mix - can children wear what they want, without fear of being judged?
In the leading role, Toby Mocrei is superb as the confused teen. Incredibly playful and cheeky, he lands every single one of his jokes, whilst at the same time providing a side of vulnerability to the character. Vocally, Mocrei is wonderful and completely at ease in this role. It's brilliant casting.
The young actor is supported by an equally strong company; Natasha Lewis is an energetically over-the-top Darvesh's Mum, Irvine Iqbal gives us the sassy and cunning salesman Raj, and Forbes Masson's Mr Hawtrey is every bit the pantomime villain, who we love to hate.
There's certainly a few catchy numbers that'll stay in your head long after the performance finishes. Guy Chambers and Robbie Williams' funky beats and pulsing soundtrack make you want to bop and clap along. Their music switches from emotional ballads, to hip-hop grime, to cheesy pop numbers. Each song fits perfectly with every story beat and, alongside Aletta Collins' thrilling choreography, these moments are filled with exuberance and delight.
The audience - made up of a mixture of children and adults - are buzzing throughout the entire performance. Their enthusiasm for the show is contagious and is absorbed by the ensemble, who offer so much energy and pizzazz, giving everyone in the room one heck of a show.
The auditorium is filled with love and excitement, and it makes the show a delicious treat from start to finish.
Photo: Manuel Harlan