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In Rehearsal: The Boy in the Dress

Emily dropped in to hear from the creative team behind the RSC's musical adaptation of The Boy in the Dress and to see a sneak peak of one of the musical numbers

Boy in the Dress

Mark Ravenhill was the RSC's writer in residence back in 2012 when they asked him to think about writing a Christmas family show. He went down to the children's book section at Foyles looking for inspiration. David Walliams' The Boy in the Dress was on the shelf. He was struck by the Shakespearean-ness of the title. He bought the book. Liked it. Met Walliams.  Maybe a musical? Walliams was spending Christmas with Robbie Williams and Guy Chambers - they were shooting the breeze, discussing projects, as you do. "So guys, how about writing the music and lyrics for this musical they are making of my book?"

It sounds like the stuff of legend. It has been a long time in the making. Over seven years later, we are in Clapham - waiting to catch a glimpse of a musical number before the cast head to Stratford-upon-Avon for final rehearsals before the show opens on 6 November. 

Guy Chambers, silver fox grey hair artfully ruffled, is a man in a hurry. A shabby RSC rehearsal room in Clapham is not perhaps his natural milieu. Williams is not present. But Chambers is at pains to stress the similarities between Robbie and the show's eponymous hero, Dennis. Working class kids, taking risks, passionate about (and very good at) football. It rings true. He describes the musical style as 'Britpop MAX'.

Mark Ravenhill is more relaxed. He is a passionate lover of musicals and has been to loads while writing the script. He has enjoyed examining the 'formula' for structuring a good 'one person' musical - Oliver, The Wizard of Oz, Annie. Most important, you need a belter of a song early on to get the audience rooting for your hero: Where is Love, Somewhere Over the Rainbow, Tomorrow/It's a Hard Knock Life (Annie gets two). 

We go downstairs to another rehearsal room to have a listen to the young cast performing Disco Symphony, which needs to be his early belter. Four boys have been cast as Dennis. Oliver Crouch (second from the right in the above photo) is playing this morning and as he looks through the mirror at himself in the dress and starts to sing, strike a pose, dance, the room fills with energy. He has charm, wonderful movement and, of course, a cracking voice.

The ensemble are excellent too. Get booking now!

The show runs from 8 November at the RSC in Stratford. Click here to book.