Matilda The Musical is marvellous, the best thing I’ve seen in ages, and one of those pieces of theatre so remarkable that it can be recommended to everyone. That’s a bold claim for any musical, let alone a musical with children in it. When pressed, we know that good children’s theatre will appeal to all ages, yet many shy away from it. That’s the first great thing about Matilda: not only are the kids marvellous, but Matthew Warchus’s production itself is so strong the show becomes unmissable.
Dennis Kelly’s appropriately imaginative adaptation of Roald Dahl’s much-loved children’s book manages to be sweet without being sickly. The story is dark, even frightening, as fairy stories should be: clever Matilda’s life with her parents is pretty miserable and things only get worse when she starts school. There are fairy godmothers here, of sorts, but Matilda knows that when something isn’t right you should sort it out yourself. She’s the embodiment of precocity and you can’t help falling in love with her.
Peter Darling’s inspired choreography complements the cast of talented youngster marvellously and the same can be said of the superb adult ensemble that joins in. Paul Kaye and Josie Walker are superb as Matilda’s awful parents – larger than life – just as they should be. But the star of the night is Bertie Carvel who plays Miss Trunchbull, the school’s hammer throwing headmistress with vocabulary expanding insults, in such grand style that his character becomes a creation in its own right.
Miss Trunchball gets the best opening number for a transvestite on stage since The Rocky Horror Show. And that isn’t a sentence I thought I would write in this review. But it goes to show how unusual Matilda is, dipping its toe into insanity but firmly on the side of genius. The man we can thank for this is composer and lyricist (and successful stand-up comedian) Tim Minchin. Not only has he written some perfectly revolting rhymes and a string of great songs, even his incidental music is stunning, blending the magic and mayhem of the story to make this a wonderful theatrical evening.
Minchin’s songs tell stories – the key to musical theatre numbers – and move and develop the plot so that the show is compelling as well as funny and moving. Matilda will captivate you and her love of words is infectious – Matilda The Musical will have you reaching for the thesaurus to find new superlatives.
Photo by Manuel Harlan
Written 25 November 2011 for The London Magazine