London Theatre Review: Matilda The Musical

Date Posted: 24/08/2017

Terrifically revolting children and delightfully grotesque adults; the stage adaptation of the Roald Dahl classic has it all. GLT’s Keeley Rodgers went to see the show at London’s Cambridge Theatre, before it goes on its first UK tour. 

I’ve read the book, watched the film, but nothing could have prepared me for what the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Matilda production had in store. 

As the curtain fell to an auditorium packed to the rafters of all ages; a standing ovation and the biggest beaming smiles you can imagine, you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s the latest show to hit the West End. 

But six years after it burst onto the stage and more than 85 awards later Matilda The Musical is enthralling audiences as if it was brand new. Even before the show begins you know you’re in for something special with a stage covered in books and letters; there’s a sense of magic and imagination. 

The show is full of contrast; the first is our introduction to the delightfully grotesque Mr and Mrs Wormwood (played to perfection by Rebecca Thornhill and Michael Begley). Neglected by her parents, Matilda (performed brilliantly by Lilian Hardy – there are four girls who alternate in the lead role) finds solace in stories. 

There are some very heart-warming moments throughout, not least in the interactions between Matilda and the fabulous librarian Mrs Phelps (played by Sharlene Whyte) and of course everyone’s favourite Mrs Honey (Miria Parvin). 

Just as Matilda tells us about ‘changing your story’ and ‘turning a page in a book’, the musical, written by Dennis Kelly and directed by Matthew Warchus, has so much to keep audiences of all ages glued. 

Some of Kelly’s masterly additions include the tragic story of the escapologist and his evil aunt (which may sound familiar) and Mrs Wormwood’s fabulously camp ballroom-dancing partner Rudolpho. 

But don’t worry, it still includes our much-loved scenes; the hair dye swap, the super glued hat and everyone’s favourite - Bruce Bogtrotter’s cake punishment. 

Craig Els

Pictured: Craig Els as Miss Trunchbull  (photo credit Manuel Harlan)

Among the performers of the night was the very tall Craige Els, who plays, you may have guessed it, the evil headteacher Miss Trunchbull. Our first glimpse into the cruelty at Crunchem Hall, which includes the famous ‘chokey’ for the naughty children, is truly terrifying and fun all at the same time. 

There were a few gasps when, to the audience’s horror, Miss Trunchbull swung Amanda Thripp by her pigtails, a scene I wasn’t sure they’d recreate. Without spoiling it, let’s just say, it all ends well and in a true revolt, the little people get their revenge on the hammer-throwing head. It’s true that, ‘sometimes you have to be a little naughty’. 

It’s easy to forget that the majority of the cast are children; their performances are flawless, they hit every note and make every move effortlessly and with boundless energy. Proof, as Matilda tells us that ‘even if you’re little you can do a lot’. Not quite the squits that Miss Trunchbull has them down as. 

It’s also hard to believe that Roald Dahl began writing Matilda when he was 70, with the first draft taking him nearly a year to complete. Transformed on to the stage, the ingenious production, made by the very talented Tim Minchin’s lyrics, surpasses age, and time.   

And the story is only just beginning. After a successful three-year run on Broadway, Matilda continues its tour of the US and in 2018 will begin touring the UK and Ireland. Not bad for a story written in a garden shed. Don’t miss it. 

For information and tickets visit uk.matildathemusical.com.

Lead image: The cast of Matilda (photo credit Manuel Harlan)

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