The RSC announced their Christmas show to be a musical adaptation of David Walliams’ children’s book The Boy In The Dress. It’s a heart-warming and funny story about a young boy who loves to play football and wear dresses.
I spoke to Mark Ravenhill, who is adapting the book into a spectacular stage show to delight audiences in Stratford-Upon-Avon this Christmas.
Dennis is 12 years old and his school football team’s star striker. When his mum leaves home, the only reminder he has is a photo of her in a beautiful yellow dress. When he befriends free-spirited school-mate Lisa who dreams of being a designer, he is persuaded to model a dress she has made. Falling in love with fashion, much to his head teacher’s dismay, he decides to turn up to school in a dress.
It all came about whilst Mark was playwright in residence at the RSC back in 2012 and 2013. “I wanted to adapt a book for a family show so I asked some friends with young kinds what they love reading,” he explains. “They all said they love David Walliams so I went down to the bookshop and The Boy in the Dress was the one that stood out to me as being quite theatrical.”
Mark then read the book in a single sitting, he adored the story so went to meet David Walliams to talk about his vision for it on the stage. David and Mark agreed it would make a great musical, and the rest is history.
“When first reading a book I do place bits of it on stage in my head, but I try to silence that voice at first, so I can read the book a few times and just enjoy it,” Mark says. “Then gradually I begin to think about how I see it on stage.
“David and I then began to discuss who would be great to write the music and he quite quickly suggest Guy Chambers. He has written majority of Robbie Williams’ music and I thought he’d be great.There was a freshness and cheekiness about a lot of Guy’s writing that I thought would sit well with David’s writing. Then after a few weeks Guy said that Robbie would like to co-write it, which is great.”
Mark felt the book was perfect to be adapted for the stage, he was drawn to Boy In The Dress because it had the right amount of both story and characters. “Quite often when you’re presented with something to adapt, you have to sit down with the novelist and cut parts and characters. However, with this, it had just the right amount, so the stage version is pretty close to what happens in the book,” Mark says. “When I was a kid I’d remember seeing my favourite book on stage and when it was messed around it made me feel a bit cross. So I think this is as close to the book as you can get.”
Mark describes the show as being set in ‘David Walliams land’. “It’s sort of our contemporary world, but it isn’t, because there is no social media,” he says. “There are elements of the school world that is almost like the 1950s like Deano and Dandy, and there are bits like the 70s and 80s, and a bit like now.
“After a few readings of the book you think actually all these kids would be on Instagram and WhatsApp-ing, but it’s quite good for storytelling and actually it is a relief to step into this world where none of that exists.”
There is no doubt the RSC has a reputation for creating magical musicals and with a story created by the imagination of David Walliams, it’s a recipe for success. Mark emphasised how it is a show made for families and hopes it will be a fantastic way for families to experience theatre together.
“I think the message of the show is just really just very honest and heartfelt, which is that each of us is different and each of us
“The show is a real emotional rollercoaster, it’s a real laugh but there are also some really moving moments. You laugh a lot, you weep a bit and it really takes you on a journey as a story.”
The Boy In The Dress is on at the RSC in Stratford-Upon-Avon from the 8th November 2019 to the 8th of March 2020. Tickets go on general sale on the 18th of March 2019.