Archive Review – “Matilda The Musical” (Cambridge Theatre, London)

Review first published 28/08/12

For those who are not familiar with Roald Dahl’s novel, Matilda is the story of a highly intelligent young girl who is loathed by her family for her love of books and who is enrolled into the terrifying “Crunchem Hall” school.  There, Matilda meets the caring Miss Honey, who wishes to feed her love of books and knowledge, and the gruesome Miss Trunchbull, former Olympic shot putter and who has a hatred of all children or, as she refers to them, “maggots”.

The words “Royal Shakespeare Company” and “musical” would not normally spring to my mind in the same sentence, but they have hit upon a winning formula with Matilda as it appeals to people of all ages whilst having a heroine who is clever and bookish.

The script by Dennis Kelly and the music and lyrics by Tim Minchin work alongside Dahl’s original storyline to underscore what make Dahl’s childrens stories so beloved.  You have heroic children, a nice adult role model in Miss Honey, loathsome and irredeemable adults such as Miss Trunchbull and Matilda’s parents, The Wormwoods, and words which guide the reader or, in this case, the theatregoer into a world of childhood such as “worm”, “maggot” or “toad”.

Minchin’s musical numbers really do have a, no pun intended, magical quality as there are tracks which speak  to our emotions – whatever our age, whether it be as beloved children in the number “Miracle”, the aspirations of children in “When I Grow Up”, the lack of self worth as expressed by Miss Honey in “Pathetic” or even the so-called learning aspects of television in the number “Telly” as expressed by Mr Wormwood and Michael.

The main adult cast is well composed with Steve Furst and Annette McLaughlin providing fantastic performances as the horrendously awful Wormwoods who are self absorbed in the worlds of dodgy business deals and salsa dancing, Haley Flaherty providing a well balanced counterpoint in the role of the loving and caring Miss Honey, Melanie La Barrie as librarian Mrs Phelps who wishes to hear Matilda’s stories including a tragic story which features throughout the production, and last, but certainly by no means least, David Leonard on absolutely fantastic form as the wicked Miss Trunchbull.

There are four sets of child casts for this production.  The cast who I saw perform were absolutely top notch, particularly the children who performed as Matilda herself, her best friend Lavender and the cake eating Bruce Bogtrotter.  All of the children are given their moments to shine in the production and all the children I saw balanced drama, comedy and performing abilities ably.

The set design is magical as well with words covering jumbled together like a giant wordsearch around the main proscenium arch of the stage, along with massive shelves of books being moved on and off stage and word “gardens” being raised and lowered on the stage, this is truly a play that will appeal to book lovers, the young and the young at heart.

I can only speak of my emotions that throughout the play as a reference of how I felt about it.  Basically, I was so happy at the end of the play that I both laughed AND cried.  It was that emotionally moving to me.  A play for all the family.

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