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Music Theatre Dressed to thrill

GORDON PARSONS sees a musical version of David Walliams’s children’s book that's a delight for audiences of all ages

The Boy in the Dress
Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon

AT THE end of a somewhat lacklustre year, the RSC should be happy. The Boy in the Dress has all the makings of a triumph like Matilda.

Walliams’s simple but affecting story tells of Dennis, star of his school football team, who's grieving for his absent mother. He feels “different” and through his friendship with the fashion-obsessed Lisa, the school pin-up, turns to wearing a dress.

The fraught situations in “a house without a mum” – one of the show's catchy numbers — and at a school run by a Squeers-type headmaster, make for all the fun without ever delving into issues of sexual identity.

Four child actors play Dennis at different performances but if they are all as good as Toby Mocrei on press night, music theatre has found a group of future stars.

Dennis’s relationship with Tabitha Knowles’s Lisa captures the book’s pre-pubertal innocence, perhaps more difficult to achieve on stage than on page, while Greg Doran’s direction and Ravenhill’s adaptation create comic moments with none of the knowing suggestiveness of pantomime.

All Walliams’s jokes are there — the French teacher in charge of detention leaving early to watch Pointless is a stand-out — while Aletta Collins’s choreography of a central silver-sequenced dream dance routine and two hilarious football matches, the first against a team of Lord Snooty prancing toffs, the second against a ferocious Bash Street team beset by a farting dog puppet are hugely appreciated by youngsters of all ages in the audience.

The music and lyrics by Robbie Williams and Guy Chambers have no real show-stopping numbers but plenty for a delighted audience to clap along to.

This warm family show, embracing all ages, genders and ethnicity, is a must-see celebration of togetherness in fraught times.

Runs until March 20, box office: rsc.org

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