DramaFamilyMusicalReviewSouth West

Matilda The Musical – Theatre Royal, Plymouth

Writer: Dennis Kelley (based on the book by Roald Dahl)

Music and Lyrics: Tim Minchin

Director: Matthew Warchus

Reviewer: Joan Phillips

Enter the dark imagination of Roald Dahl in the story of Matilda, a young girl, unwanted and overlooked by her parents. Seen from the point of view of the young girl, in Dahl’s imaginary world the children are wiser and kinder than the adults, who invariably turn out to be bullies, or on the make.

So it is in Matilda, who was inconsiderate enough to be born just as her mother had planned to fly to an important ballroom dancing competition. And her mother was never going to let her forget it. Matilda’s father, who never stops calling her ‘boy’, isn’t much better. An oily, useless, used-car salesman, who can’t understand why his daughter would rather read books than watch the ‘telly’.

Overlooked and bullied at home the wretched Matilda buries herself in books and creates her own fantasies which she shares with the kindly Mrs. Phelps, the librarian. If you think things couldn’t get any worse, Matilda gets sent to a school run by bullies, with the grotesque Miss Trunchbull as headmistress. ‘Maggots’ she calls the children. If any of the children causes her problems, they run the risk of being sent to ‘chokey’, a dark place of painful, solitary punishment.

It all sounds truly horrific and violent, but this is Roald Dahl who manages to balance the deep anxieties of children and growing up with dark, comic humour. And this is Matilda The Musical, Dennis Kelley’s adaptation of the original story with music and lyrics by Tim Minchin. The horror is accompanied by comedy throughout. So, when the sadistic Trunchbull, an ex-Olympic hammer thrower, picks up one of the children by her pigtails, spins her around and throws her across the school grounds, the audience is aghast. But just at the moment, the unfortunate girl splat lands face down on the school grounds, she bounces up and joins in the playground song, getting a big hand from the same, now thrilled, audience.

This touring version of Matilda The Musical maintains so much of the West End original. Rob Howell’s superlative set with layers of staggered books shelves anarchically arranged deep into the stage leave you in no doubt as to the depth of Matilda’s immersion in books and the wealth of her imagination to pull her through her awful childhood. The excellent cast also remains mostly intact. Sebastien Torkia is perfect as the slippery and hopeless father; the naturally comic Rebecca Thornhill enjoys some great physical moments as the distracted mother. Carly Thoms continues in her role as Miss Honey, managing the tricky transformation from being overlooked to asserting herself with credibility and a pure singing voice to match. Elliot Harper is the new addition to the cast, having great fun in the very physical moments as Miss Trunchbull. The children’s cast are great, avoiding the trap of overacting and shrill delivery which can so often happen with young performers. Poppy Jones in the title role is excellent.

You can’t really fault anything about the show. Minchin’s music and lyrics have already been on the receiving end of many awards and there is no sign of their appeal fading. Matthew Marchus’ direction and choreography from Peter Darling, also maintained from the award-winning original West End production, complete this highly enjoyable evening.

Touring nationwide | Image: Contributed

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The Southwest team is under the editorship of John McRoberts. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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