Based on the book by Roald Dahl
Book: Dennis Kelly
Music and lyrics: Tim Minchin
Resident Director: Phil Bartlett
Reviewer: Charlotte Broadbent
Matilda the Musical has been dominating the West End since 2010 and has gone on to charm the globe. The show made history in 2012 when all four Matildas won the coveted Olivier award for Best Actress in a Musical, not to mention the reams of other awards the show has been graced with. With such a pedigree, audiences are waiting with bated breath as Matilda embarks on its first tour of the UK and Ireland.
Frankly, the show deserves all the praise it has received. It is a bulletproof musical. Memorable themes, powerful lyrics, beautifully scored – the band were exceptional. Tim Minchin has been relentlessly bold with the music. Overall it is a wordy musical, asking for great vocal dexterity from its cast. With a complex text, sharp choreography and the live band, there were occasional battles for dominance and some words were a little lost, but this may well be experienced differently throughout the theatre. The diction was astoundingly well executed by the children, which will be well appreciated in the upper circle.
The child cast is astounding; every eyeline, gesture, and word is delivered with impeccable precision. It’s amazing to think that, at one point, Matilda was going to be the only character played by a child actor (in fact, at one point she was going to be a puppet). The presence of this tenacious and engaging core of young performers is doubtlessly the key to the show’s success. Their performances are inspiring. The young cast rotates throughout the run, but in this performance, Nicola Turner was a breathtaking Matilda.
The comedic and grotesque Mr. and Mrs. Wormwood were played by Sebastien Torkia and Rebecca Thornhill. Both have challenging solos; Torkia is charged with beginning the second act during the interval. A daunting task but Torkia interacts with the audience well and launches the second act with a bang. Thornhill was almost lost amid the goliath of a solo ‘Loud’. Brash singing, dance and comic delivery are all required to sell this number and Thornhill was all but swallowed by the task.
The notorious Miss Trunchbull is played by Elliot Harper, who arrives about a third of the way into the show. The character is talked up so much and audiences can’t wait to see how this villainous woman will be portrayed on stage. Thus, when her reveal does come it needs to be spectacular and there was some unknown quality here that was perhaps missing. The character is brought on with her back to us and begins speaking facing away. This has the potential for a dramatic reveal but something in the pacing made this moment underwhelming, which Harper never fully recovers from. His poise and execution was brilliant and his humour was intelligently understated, but perhaps there is something in the staging that means this vital character never really flies in this production.
It is notoriously difficult to obtain the rights to adapt Roald Dahl’s work, so it’s no surprise to learn that it was the Dahl estate who contacted the RSC with the intial suggestion. A real example of all of the components coming together at the right time. School Song in Act One is a striking example of this: the music of Tim Minchin and the choreography of Peter Darling is one of the greatest marriages of lyrics and dance in any musical. Inspired.
With an adaptation, there’s always a push and pull between what’s in the book and what works on stage. Matilda the Musical takes the message of the book beautifully and with real care. The result is palpably empowering, both for young children in the audience and the young-at-heart alike.
Run like the wind to catch this one.
Runs until 23 March 2019 | Image: Contributed