Pros: A brilliant script, great music, fabulous performances and an uplifting message – what more do you want from a musical?
Cons: The combination of fast, complex lyrics and imperfect mixing means some songs are a struggle to follow.
Disclaimer number one: I love Tim Minchin.
An uplifting, joyful show, set to run for a long time.
Disclaimer number two: Matilda is my favourite Roald Dahl.
This meant that Matilda the Musical was either going to be an evening of untold misery as two of my favourite things collided and ruined each other, or an evening of unbelievable joy. I am pleased to say it was most definitely the second!
Matilda, an RSC production, premièred at the Courtyard Theatre in Stratford at the end of 2010. Instantly successful with both the critics and the public, this musical transferred to the Cambridge theatre, where the doors opened towards the end of last year.
This magical production manages to encompass everything a faithful adaptation of Dahl’s work should be: joyful and uplifting but at the same time recognising the dark undertones of his work, Dennis Kelly’s adaptation can’t help but bring a smile to the face of the audience. Despite being very much a children’s production this show is so charismatic and engaging, and features such first-rate performances, that anyone of any age can’t help but become enthralled by Matilda’s tale.
Minchin’s music is as jubilant and full of word play as you would expect from the comic. In places the show suffers from imperfect sound mixing, and consequently, unless you’ve previously heard the songs, you’re likely to miss some of the whimsical wordplay, especially in the faster numbers. This is a shame, but shouldn’t put you off when the show has so much else going for it: a beautiful set that pulls the audience into the show, fabulous, playful choreography and brilliant performances.
Bertie Carvel has been rightly applauded for his performance as Miss Trunchball, the cruel, uncaring headmistress who strives to make the lives of her charges miserable. A huge, lumbering figure, Carvel manages to both strike fear into the hearts of the audience whilst also being farcically over the top and gloriously repulsive, making her a joy to hate.
Matilda’s entire family, who ridicule her from day one for her obvious intelligence, are played radiantly by Paul Kaye, Josie Walker and Peter Howe. The Matilda I saw played the role with a sweetness and mischief that contrasts sharply to the rest of her family, and the gruesome Trunchball – you are behind her every step of the way as she is ‘a little bit naughty’.
The ensemble, a mixture of adults and children, are clearly having an incredible time – their exuberance radiates from the stage throughout the show. The child actors are the real stars, managing to be charismatic and avoiding that awful stage school precociousness that could so easily ruin the show. I challenge anyone not to feel a lump grow in their throat during ‘When I Grow Up’ as both the adults and children acknowledge all those things we dream of as children but forget when we fall into the dull realities of adult life.
Matilda celebrates children. It makes clear how anyone can take control of their own lives and the huge power of learning. Rebellion is celebrated and the moment where the children overturn their oppressor is glorious – this is one children’s show that never panders to what we think they might need to see, but seeks instead to show them what they can achieve, if they just work hard. Go, and take any children you know. Or don’t. You definitely won’t be the only unaccompanied adults in the audience!
Written by: Roald Dahl
Adapted by: David Kelly
Music & Lyrics by: Tim Minchin
Directed by: Matthew Warchus