STAGE REVIEW: The Boy in the Dress - at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon, from November 8 until March 8, 2020.

EVERY which way has been the order of play with the RSC this past year as it has totally embraced gender trends and orientation.

So perhaps it was to be expected that their festive offering would be ushered away from the traditional-type of Christmas offerings and along the same track with this version of David Walliams' hugely popular book.

Walliams’ tale is without doubt a heart-warming comedy of a different calibre which clearly appealed not only to the younger element of the audience, those in and around their early teens, but also to the wider family membership.

This is it’s world premiere, the first time it has appeared on stage in a musical adapted by Mark Ravenhill, and boasting a considerable pedigree with its songs written by one of the biggest names in the world of pop music, Robbie Williams, along with Guy Chambers.

Dennis, notably played by Toby Mocrei - one of a team of four in the role, is 12 years old and he is his school football team’s star striker.

Life is turned upside down when Mum packs her bags and leaves home.

Life is tough and the only reminder he has of his Mum is a photo of her in a beautiful yellow dress. A dress rather like the one on the cover of Vogue on sale at Raj’s newsagents. And also a bit like the one that Lisa James, the coolest girl in the school and played on Press night by the captivating Tabitha Knowles, is sketching in her note book.

The long suppressed message eventually erupts from Dennis-cum-Denise, with the latent but eventual support of his school’s head, to be yourself not what others think you should be.

You are what you are so don’t attempt to hide or vanquish your belief of what is important to you.

But what do you do then if you like both football and dresses? And what will Mr Hawtrey, the demonic headteacher, do when he discovers that his strict uniform code has been broken by a boy who dares turn up in a dress?

Former RSC playwright in residence Mark Ravenhill does Walliams’ book justice with a script that takes on board the more serious message but also ensures it’s element of a thoroughly amusing comedy remains - in essence a production for all the family.

Plenty here to engage all ages and a fair selection of appealing songs mixed with the more mundane.

And there’s a number of colourful over-the top portrayals too - such as Forbes Masson’s Mr Hawtrey, the school’s all powerful-head, who initially claims - ‘I hate children’. So utterly memorable.

There’s also Charolotte Wakefield’s incredibly sensitive French teacher, Miss Windsor, and Irvine Iqbal’s ebullient corner shop owner Raj, with his special offers for this and that, which is roundly matched by Natasha Lewis, the loud and colourful mother of Darvesh (Ethan Dattani), Dennis’ best friend and footballing chum.

There are a number of other excellent performances which, rolled together, add to the entertainment value.

It might not be the festive fare audiences have been accustomed to over the decades with a traditional panto or an occasional slight shift to a swashbuckling story. Not a peep of a ghost scene, and no one shouting ‘he’s behind you!'

But it is glorious fun and something considerably different for the time of year.

When, as expected, it heads off to the bright lights of London’s West End it will settle in comfortably and delight audiences much as Matilda, that other recent switch to a stage musical of a children’s favourite read - the Roald Dahl book - has done and enjoy a lengthy stay.