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Over five years since it first opened at London’s Cambridge Theatre, Matilda continues to present a visual and audible masterclass to its wide-ranging audience. Based on the 1988 children’s novel by the incomparable Roald Dahl, the production almost literally propels the audience into the fantastical, sometimes macabre, world of the often-neglected title character.
As the story, the musical focuses on the exploits of six-year-old Matilda, as she yearns to be accepted for her academic ways. Shunned by a family who find happiness in the superficial, she turns to her librarian Mrs Phelps (Sharlene Whyte) and new teacher Miss Honey (Miria Parvin) for love. All the while she faces the wrath of children-hating head teacher Miss Trunchbull, played by the show-stealing Craig Els.
Like the book and film before it, the musical adaptation of Matilda brilliantly balances the serious subject matter with abundant humour. Mesmerising scenes elevate the depths of Trunchbull’s dark character, not least one exploit that witnesses the theatre transformed into a particularly inventive sporting range. The warmth of Matilda’s companions and the strength of her character counteract otherwise heavy themes of neglect.
Through this, the musical appeals to both young and old. All ages can be mesmerised by the colourful production, and gravity defying routines. For youngsters, Matilda is driven by the comedic turns, yet finds grounding in its emotional plot. The young ensemble cast carry the story with an unfaltering enthusiasm and precise delivery. Even the smallest are experts of the stage.
The music and lyrics by comedian Tim Minchin represent each mood brilliantly, be it the exuberantly big numbers or the intimate woes of Matilda or Miss Honey. It jumps from the downbeat to the frivolous with ease, each one never overpowering the other. Cleverly, the production never lingers in one space for too long.
As beautifully melodramatic turns meet heart-stopping choreography and laugh-out-loud humour, Matilda continues to justify its position in the upper-echelons of the West End.
Matilda is booking now through Ticketmaster.co.uk.