In the ordinary town on the ordinary street in the ordinary city, lives Dennis Simms… Immediately, Robert Jones’ excellent design alongside Mark Henderson’s lighting evokes a little bit of Quentin Blake, which of course is so synonymous with the enormous success of Roald Dahl’s Matilda (first created by the RSC in 2010), but nevertheless, this show is able to keep its own style. And in the opening moments we are introduced to the excellent duo of young Dennis, played with great skill and comic timing by Toby Morcrei, and his brother John, played by Alfie Jukes. The pair give an assured performance with Rufus Hound at the helm, and at times, especially in ‘A House Without a Mum’, the trio is gold.
Forbes Masson, in the archetypal role of child-hating Headmaster Hawtrey gives us an admirably crazed Scot, however if his song, ‘I Hate Kids’ had had a little more variation than just the title repeated over and over I might not have wanted to hit fast forward. This is where, in my opinion the show falls down. The songs are good, but a few have the tinkling familiarity of Robbie Williams’ greatest hits and while catchy, they can become an earworm in the worst sense of the word as ‘Rock DJ’ merges into ‘Disco Symphony’.
Some of the best comedy comes from the ensemble cast itself, in particular the ASBO twins (Grace Wilde and Charlotte Jaconelli), the St Kenneth’s Captain (Jamie Tyler) in all his bespectacled glory, and the adorable Big Mac (Max Gill). When you have a group like this, they can too easily be underappreciated as their slickness and style is down to a tee. David Bowie comes to town in ‘Disco Symphony’, with so many glitter balls you almost see your own reflection sparkling back at you; it is high energy in high heels as they boogie on down to the interval.
After the interval, the plot, sadly, is not quite able to retrieve the high-octane excitement of Dennis’ fashion revelation. We have the excitement of the final football showdown, but Mr Hawtrey’s little secret is left a little too late to have its intended effect. Sure, it’s funny but it feels like we are chasing after the big number that we left behind in Lisa James’ room with feather boa in hand.
A special mention must go to Odd Bod the dog, masterfully created by Ben Thompson, puppeteer extraordinaire. His little quirks and knack for farts in the right time, wrong place reminds us that ultimately, this is a comedy for kids. It is fun, sparkly, and with a meaning thrown in, I’m sure the production will do very well indeed.
The Boy in the Dress is playing at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre until March 8. For more information and tickets, see The RSC website.