Front Row Review: Matilda The Musical

Date Posted: 25/11/2011

Rediscovering the magic of storytelling, Rebekah Tailor attended the opening night of new RSC production Matilda The Musical following its West End transfer to the Cambridge Theatre. 

One of the greatest assets of musical theatre is its ability to attract such varied audiences - succeeding in capturing the imagination of both young and old, and uniting multiple generations. If ever there was a production which achieves this objective it’s Matilda The Musical.

Attending the first opening night at the West End’s Cambridge Theatre - just over a year since its world-premiere performance at the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Courtyard Theatre - I wasn’t surprised to observe the large number of young children and families in the audience; Matilda The Musical is after all based on the novel of one of the world’s best-loved children’s writers, Roald Dahl. What did surprise me however was the immediacy by which the entire audience was so obviously captivated by the performance, with the weary faces of harassed parents completely transformed by the interval.

An imaginative and vibrant set of alphabet bricks gives way to a colourful and comic opening number performed by the company - itself a talented mix of adult and child actors - before we’re introduced to the show’s young star, Matilda Wormwood, and her abominable family. Staying true to Dahl’s original story, the long-suffering Matilda - dragged up by her hideously brash and repellent parents - seeks solace in her library books, finding an escape in the world of storytelling and using her extraordinary powers and clear conviction to challenge the twisted adult world around her.

In the starring role shared with three other young actresses, ten-year-old Eleanor Worthington Cox, stages a confident and utterly charming portrayal of Matilda. In fact, all of the young actors who complete the nine-strong children’s cast are incredibly talented, with Jake Bailey and Ellie Simons standing out as Matilda’s classmates Bruce and Lavender. Special mention must also go to Ted Wilson as the endearing Eric pronounced, “just adorable” by one couple sitting behind me.

The adult cast is just as exemplary, with many of the original cast members reprising their roles for the West End production. Paul Kaye and Josie Walker are hilarious as the vile and cringe-worthy Mr and Mrs Wormwood, invading the stage in a colourful swirl of clashing costumes, raucous cackles and platinum blonde curls. Villain of the piece, hulking headmistress the indomitable Miss Agatha Trunchball is played superbly by Bertie Carvel, stealing the show at every occasion, and none more so than during incredibly entertaining musical numbers The Hammer and The Smell of Rebellion. In fact, the entire musical score is exceptionally strong. Written by Australian comedian, musician and composer Tim Minchin, the infectious songs and witty lyrics are performed with much gusto, succeeding in carrying the story along.

As previously atoned, Matilda The Musical stays largely true to Roald Dahl’s original tale, and I was keen to see how specific scenes within the story would translate to the stage. Anyone who is familiar with the book will understand my reference to the ‘hammer-throwing episode’ as a pigtailed-pupil is flung across the school playground. Yes this scene is included, and yes, it’s executed brilliantly!

Matilda The Musical makes constant reference to the value of books, fictional worlds and the art of storytelling. While on one level this could be perceived as targeting its youthful spectators with an important lesson; I’m convinced it travels beyond this in an attempt to re-engage adult audiences with this simple idea forgotten in a fast-paced world of evolving technology and high-tech gadgets. Of course, I could just be reading too much into it.

Whatever its (un)intended message, whoever its anticipated audience, there’s no doubt that Matilda The Musical is a truly heart-warming production, and a vision tremendously well-executed by the Royal Shakespeare Company. And so whoever you are, whatever your age, this is one musical production I’d recommend for everyone.

Matilda The Musical is currently booking at the Cambridge Theatre until the 21st October 2012. Groups of ten or more people can take advantage of discounted rates for performances from Tuesday to Thursday plus Wednesday matinees. For an up-to-date production schedule, visit the website.

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