Writer: Roald Dahl
Adaptor: Dennis Kelly
Music/Lyrics: Tim Minchin
Director Matthew Warchus
The success of Matilda: The Musical, like its titular hero, should not be underestimated. Having premiered eight years ago at the Courtyard Theatre in Stratford-Upon-Avon, Tim Minchin and Dennis Kelly’s musical adaptation of Roald Dahl’s touching tale of an unlikely friendship champions the underdog despite the harshest of conditions.
On press night technical gremlins tried to put its own chokey on the proceedings but were finally thwarted after a 20-minute delay. However, placing the difficulties aside Matilda is a true show-stopping musical, with staggering performances, slick direction, choreography, and production elements. This is a regional tour which doesn’t skimp on any element and is just as equal as its West-End big sister.
Performed on Rob Howell’s letter block set, the stage really does become a children’s playground not only for the cast but also for the audience’s imaginations, this is a set of suggestion and symbolism and when lit by Hugh Vanstone’s moody, atmospheric lighting design which is cut with shards of colour you can’t help but be emerged into the dark and twisted world that Roald Dahl originally conjured. Talking of conjuring there are some excellent illusions created by magician Paul Kieve which really do make you wonder “how did they do that?”.
Director Matthew Warchus has clearly had a lot of fun creating the production, his attention to detail is brilliant, and combined with Peter Darling’s spirited, angular and pointed choreography they imbibe the production with a finesse and energy that is just a delight to watch. Key to the show’s success though is Dennis Kelly’s lively adaptation which stays incredibly true to the original source material but provides plenty of scope for his own touches of artistic licence. Likewise, Tim Minchin’s songs and lyrical witticisms bring an edge to the musical that plays on many levels – hey even adults like to be a little bit naughty too!
When all the elements that surround a production soar to the highest of standards, the show can rise or fall on the cast that delivers the material. With this first UK tour you don’t need to worry. The cast are sublime, especially from Sophia Ally who as the titular role manages to captivate and enthral the sold-out press night audience with a portrayal and professionalism which far outstrips her tender young age – her Matilda, is feisty and independent, yet has a lovely vulnerability that underpins her performance. Ally is the perfect foil to the excellent performance from Craige Els, who arguably gives the performance of his career as the bullish Miss Trunchbull – he owns the stage and rings every inch of melodramatic Machiavellian mischievousness from the miserable matriarch.
Sebastien Torkia is a comic delight as Matilda’s lying, scheming, second-hand car-salesman father Mr Wormwood, Michelle Chantelle Hopewell is a spirited Mrs Phelps – the friendly librarian, while Carly Thoms gives a heart-warming portrayal as put-upon teacher Miss Honey. Strong support is also given from the young ensemble of child performers and credit must be given to Dylan Hughes who gives us an impassioned Bruce and Louella Asante-Owusu gives bags of confidence as Matilda’s best friend Lavender.
As musical’s go, Matilda isn’t afraid to go dark and the story which underpins the production has a real weight and poignancy to it. It certainly helps us the audience emotionally connect to the material and when it’s as well presented as it is here, you can’t help but rise to your feet and give the production the just deserved standing ovation. It’s a shame that Roald Dahl isn’t around to see this production, as one would bet it lives up to even his incredibly high standards.
Runs until 24 November 2018 | Image: Contributed