Yesterday was one of the best musical theatre experiences of my life – my daughter thought it was better than Oliver (which we saw in 2009, reviewed here). I’m torn between the familiar big spectacle of Oliver which I have always loved, and this wonderful new piece of theatre, adapted from Roald Dahl’s children’s classic Matilda, which deserves to become a classic production too.
Hopes were high from the offset, as we know and love the Danny De Vito film starring Pam Ferris as Miss Trunchbull and Mara Wilson in the lead role. Would the stage show be a musical version of that, or would it have it’s own identity? I’m pleased to say, totally the latter! Tim Minchin, the Australian comedian, is behind the music which is tuneful and contemporary, and witty lyrics which are full of good rhymes and puns, and together with Dennis Kelly who wrote ‘the book’, they’ve a hit on their hands directed by Matthew Warchus.
Being an RSC (Royal Shakespeare Company) production, it was detailed and slick and made full use of the main aisle and balcony spots to take the action off stage – notably catching Amanda’s body when Miss Trunchbull swung her round like a hammer and flung her off-stage (that was a great stunt!). The set was marvellous – with higgledy-piggledy letter tiles surrounding the proscenium and all sorts of motorised parts appearing from the jutting out stage – notably the school desks. It was nice that the cast weren’t miked up either which can be rather distracting, but there was subtle space amplification which was fine. The orchestra were above the stage behind the letters.
Now to the cast … Wow! Paul Kaye was Mr Wormwood – (you may remember him from TV as Dennis Pennis – spoof celeb interviewer). He cavorted around the stage like a manic Michael Palin in spiv mode – very funny, and he also kept the audience entertained during the interval, coming on half-way through to do some comedy (still in character) and sing a song which got everyone back to their seats – clever eh! Mrs Wormwood played by Josie Walker, was a total and utter horror as the salsa-dancing mother who didn’t realise she was pregnant. Her salsa routine with Rudolpho, her dance instructor played by Michael Rouse, wouldn’t have got many points from the Strictly Come Dancing judges, but was very funny and ‘loud’. Poor Miss Honey (Lauren Ward) was very sweet and understanding, and had to learn to be brave.
Then we have Miss Trunchbull – played as a muscle-bound, big-bosomed grotesque with a steel-grey bun by Bertie Carvel (left), and all the time he was on stage you couldn’t take your eyes off him/her. He was totally unrecognisable in this guise, and was totally monstrous yet ridiculous and very, very scary each time he said the word ‘chokey’.
And lastly, we come to the children, and Matilda in particular. There are three casts alternating with the three Matildas, and we saw Kerry Ingram who is eleven, but looks younger in the title role (she’s in the pics above). She was amazing – well all of the kids were – but Matilda is such a big part and she was on stage almost all of the time – a real professional. I take my hat off to them.
The whole was slick and beautifully performed, hilarious for both children and adults. It had with thrills aplenty, and was heart-warming at the end too – I nearly welled up when Matilda got her happy ending. It was fabulous, and I hope they can transfer it to the West End to reach a bigger audience than the limited run in Stratford allows. 10/10