This month is Roald Dahl month, with the 13 September 2015 marking what would have been the author’s 99th birthday.
Based on his beloved book of the same name, Tim Minchin and Dennis Kelly’s musical version of Matilda is a sight to behold. When the musical opened in 2011, it went on to win a then record-breaking seven Oliviers (2012), and has since gone on to win five Tony’s on Broadway, and spawn productions in Australia and a US tour. Now in its fourth year in London, it’s great to see Matilda’s magical sparkle is yet to wear off – far from it, in fact.
Everything about this show is truly special. Much of its success is down to the glorious cast, with many of the supporting players as deserving a mention as the stunning leads. There’s much fun to be had in the way of Lisa Davina Phillip’s librarian Mrs Phelps, for one; Haley Flaherty is sumptuous as the beaming, wonderful Miss Honey; while James Clyde and Kay Murphy are stunningly revolting as Mr and Mrs Wormwood, respectively.
The list, truly, goes on. There’s so much talent in this show that it’s simply impossible to know where to begin. At the centre of Matilda are the cast of children – not the just the titular heroine (though she alone is worth the ticket price), but her ragtag group of friends, comrades and co-conspirators, and frankly they’re astoundingly good. Matilda employs 29 children (including four Matildas), who each play one of eight child roles on a roster of nights. They’re barely off the stage, clearly having the time of their lives, and are simply infectious with their joy, talent and energy. Your Matilda (whoever you see), will be particularly worthy of the standing ovation at the end – its sheer theatrical perfection.
It’s of course impossible to talk about the cast of Matilda without mentioning the evil Miss Trunchbull, here played by Craige Els. In every way, Trunchbull is the perfect villain – though, that’s nothing new, Dahl wrote her that way in 1988 – but with this take on the character, etched out in her incredible costume, resplendent with bulging shoulders, a grotesque hunchback and distinctly ample bosom, Trunchbull becomes instantly iconic. She almost steals the show.
Beyond the cast, it would simply be too easy to wax lyrical about everything else: there’s a stunning set, where school desks appear out from the floor and giant swings drop from the ceiling to arc out over the audience, to amazing lighting, captivating choreography and electrifying songs. You’ll know many already, such as the award-winning When I Grow Up, Naughty and Miracle, but there’s plenty more gems to be had here: My House, Quiet, and The Smell of Rebellion all stand out for their own reasons, and for what their bring to the show, but it’s the barnstorming Revolting Children as the show’s climactic number that truly deserves more attention as a musical theatre masterpiece.
In many ways, Matilda is a family show, and is probably the most family friendly production the West End currently has in residence. At times it feels borderline-pantomime – although that’s in no way a criticism. It’s loud, bright, exuberant and very catchy. It’s also buoyed by the fact that it’s got plenty for the adults as well as the kids. The bright colours, slapstick gags and child-heavy drama will do wonders to enthral younger audience members, but Tim Minchin’s songs are so well-laced with wit, humour and pathos, that there’s plenty to raise a smile with the adults, too – especially if they can still remember the child inside of themselves.
For that is what is at the heart of Matilda: yes, love and acceptance, justice and being true to yourself – but also just remembering what being a kid is all about, and enjoying every damn minute of it.
Matilda the Musical is showing at Cambridge Theatre, London, until December 2016, book now at Ticketmaster.co.uk.