Author: Roald Dahl
Book: Dennis Kelly
Music and Lyrics: Tim Minchin
Director: Matthew Warchus
Reviewer: Maggie Constable
The Royal Shakespeare Company’s multi-award-winning Matilda The Musical has arrived in Milton Keynes this week, it has been long anticipated and will play for almost a month. Roald Dahl’s 1988 novel is a well known and much loved one which has been given that special treatment by writer Dennis Kelly, complemented by Tim Minchin’s music and lyrics.
Matilda is a hyper-intelligent 5-year-old with a powerful imagination; not appreciated by her cruel, neglectful parents, the Wormwoods, who would have preferred a child who likes the same things as they do i.e. microwaved meals in front of the TV, she loves reading books and they just don’t get it so their answer is to bully her. The poor girl does not fare much better with her Headteacher, the wicked Agatha Trunchbull, but she finds sanctuary with her class teacher, the lovely Miss Honey, who relates to her situation only too well. Matilda also develops some special telekinetic powers along the way which become very useful when dealing with all the nastiness.
Craig Els reprises the role of Miss Trunchbull and is truly incredible. He is a wonderful mix of camp humour and sinister with superb physicality; just the way he moves his fingers and his facial expressions is enough to strike fear in the hearts of the young. He is a powerful presence on stage and is at his best during the gym scene which features the snappy The Smell of Rebellion song.
Carly Thomas brings us the aptly named Miss Honey with just the right balance between the character’s sweetness and her inner strength, having a mellifluous singing voice which works really well for the role. Rebecca Thornhill takes on the role of Mrs Wormwood with real gusto. A natural comedian, she uses her body and her voice exceedingly well to comic effect and is also a talented dancer. Sebastien Torkia as her husband, car salesman Harry Wormwood, is spot on; he does the spiv to a tee and demonstrates excellent comic timing throughout. He makes the father’s disdain for his daughter very evident and believable and, as a couple, they work well together.
Poppy Jones’ Matilda is much more assertive and less saccharine than the character in the film, but that is undoubtedly due as much to the writing as to the acting. She does a sterling job and holds the stage displaying such talent in one so young. The rest of the children in the company perform as consummate professionals and with great confidence, the gym routine, in particular, is brilliant -the timing perfect.
Rob Howell’s set design is amazing with colourful alphabet blocks and books stacked high. Scenery is moved effortlessly and the swings flying out from the stage in When I Grow Up create a real sense of involvement for the audience. The choreography by Peter darling is utterly dynamic, especially in numbers such as Miracle at the start of the show in which it seems almost robotic. Tim Minchin’s addictive tunes and witty, clever lyrics carry the show along and are completely intrinsic to the storytelling, making it all the more effective, therefore, and Matthew Warchus’ sharp direction adds to the unbelievable pace of it all.
The darker themes such as loss and rejection are handled sensitively and bring a sense of poignancy to the piece, contrasting beautifully with all the ‘burpy’ humour for which Dahl is so well known. There is something for everyone in this production and we are left with a real belief in the power to overcome evil. It is the musical that has everything. Miss it at your peril.
Runs Until 30 June 2018 | Image: Manuel Harlan