As The Boy in the Dress prepares to open, writer David Walliams reflects on how it feels to see his much-loved children’s book turned into a musical.

The Boy in the Dress opens in the Royal Shakespeare Theatre on Friday 8 November, as David Walliams' novel becomes a fully-fledged musical for the first time, with music from Robbie Williams and Guy Chambers.

It’s been a surreal experience for David, as he didn’t think anything would come of Director Gregory Doran asking Robbie and Guy to write the music for the show: “I know Robbie and Guy a bit and I thought, well, you can ask them, I’m not going to ask, because they probably won’t want to and they’re far too busy. When they said, Robbie and Guy are on board, then I thought, yeah, well, I’ll believe it when I hear the songs. Then, when I came to a workshop and I heard 18 incredible songs, I was like, oh, this is real now, my book really is going to be a musical at the RSC with songs by Robbie Williams and Guy Chambers.”

Guy Chambers and David Walliams talking to each other.
David with songwriter Guy Chambers.
Photo by Joe Bailey © RSC Browse and license our images

Although The Boy in the Dress has already been adapted for television, David describes seeing the story set to music as "the most transformative thing. It gives such an extra, emotional dimension to the story. As a result, it doesn’t feel like this is just the book on the stage; it feels like something completely new."

He was particularly impressed by how immediate the songs were, and how true to the story: "There’s a directness and simplicity to them.... I think because Guy and Robbie are used to writing pop songs, they’re very immediate and very gettable." 

Listen to this clip of new song Disco Symphony to hear it for yourself:

And while there are some great comedy songs in the mix, he warns that audiences need to be prepared to have their heartstrings pulled too: "There’s a song for Dennis, If I Don’t Cry, in which he sings “If I don’t cry, I’ll break inside” and that’s just so beautiful. I was blown away. When you give that material to a child to sing as well, it takes on a whole different dimension…. it just hits you in a deeper way."

The Boy in the Dress runs in the Royal Shakespeare Theatre from 8 November 2019 - 8 March 2020.