Originating from the beloved Roald Dahl novel and previously adapted into a successful film, Matilda the musical, brought to us by Dennis Kelly with music and lyrics by Tim Minchin, arrives dragging a slew of awards from Oliviers to Tonys. Burdened with that weight of expectation, how did this touring version of the show do?
It’s nothing short of fantastic, to be honest.
The story of a tiny dreamer with her head buried in books and the rotten family who don’t appreciate her, Matilda is a plucky miniature heroine in a world of vile, unfair grownups. The teeny dreamer is unwanted from day one for ruining her mother’s attempt at a ballroom dancing championship by having the gall to be born, and distrusted by her used-car-salesman father for the dreaded sin of not liking television.
Dreaming of the day she can go to school, Matilda comes back to earth with a bump after her first day at Crunchem Hall, a grimy dark dungeon of a place where kids shiver in fear of the monstrous, shot-putting headmistress Miss Trunchbull. Believing that if it’s not right, you have to put it right, the brainy brave Matilda soon discovers that in order to succeed, sometimes you have to be a little bit naughty.
From the very beginning, the visuals impress on you that this is a show that came to play. The set is a twisting, revolving wonder of functionality, acting as a school, a house, a library, the gloriously, acidly, vile costumes almost sum up the characters before the actors lift a finger.
On the particular night we attended, Matilda was played by the supernaturally talented Nicola Turner, a true all rounder who commanded the stage completely. The role is also shared by Annalise Bradbury, Laura Cohen and Poppy Jones. All the child roles are played by a revolving cast, with the cast on this particular night fantastic across the board. A special mention must go to Scarlet Weegram, the tiny little actress who played Matilda’s best friend Lavender so well, it wouldn’t surprise if she was a 35 year old in disguise. It must be said, while stage school kids are generally pretty precocious, there are set pieces here so choreographically complicated I wouldn’t have thought they’d ask children to attempt them, never mind the kids actually being able to do them.
As Miss Trunchbull, the cartoonishly warped headmistress, Craige Eels can’t help but almost steal the show, but there is wonderful, underplayed support from Carly Thoms as the lovely Miss Honey. Rebecca Thornhill and Sebastien Torkia prove to be no slouches either as Mrs. And Mr. Wormwood, the worst parents in England.
If there was a down side to the evening, it’s not a fault of the play itself. While the principals’ vocals are crisp and well delivered, the acoustics don’t quite lend themselves to the group numbers, as the audio of the ensemble can be a little muddy with certain lyrics unclear. This isn’t a criticism of the performers as their physicality proved there to be no lack of dedication. With not one dud tune in the bunch, you really want to hang on every word.
The show is so good, it almost feels miserly to point out a downside, because this is a total class act from start to finish. With other films not quite making the transition to the stage, it wouldn’t be out of place to say Matilda is without a doubt one of the best musicals of the new century. If you can judge by audience reaction – the rapturous, hearty, roaring ovation the show received on the night – there were a couple of thousand people who agreed.
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