Tag Archives: Dennis Kelly

“Matilda” at the Cambridge Theatre

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.

Bertie Carvel as Miss Trunchbull in the RSC Production of Roald Dahl's Matilda The Musical. Photo by Manuel Harlan. 11.2-0500
Bertie Carvel as Miss Trunchbull

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

“The Prince of Homburg” at the Donmar Warehouse

The Donmar’s production of Heinrich von Kleist’s The Prince of Homburg is another attempt to provide London audiences with the chance to see a classic we should all be more familiar with. Written just before the author’s death in 1811, the play is a mixture of romance and military drama, pitting the emotions of its hero with his sense of honour.

The Prince is the kind of dreaming philosopher that director Jonathan Munby deals well with. Munby’s last production at the Donmar, Life is a Dream, shared concerns about the failings of human perception and this production has a similar ethereal feel. But the Prince is also a military leader and when he makes a mistake in battle and is court marshalled, he comes to believe that he should pay for his error with his life. A modern audience is bound to have problems finding this believable. His journey to the decision is too brief to dispel these doubts and Dennis Kelly’s new version bizarrely encourages them.

The problem of motivation seems shared by the cast as well. Charlie Cox as the Prince and Sonya Cassidy as his love interest do well to establish a magnetic relationship, but the emotions surrounding the Prince’s imprisonment and attempts to save, then sacrifice him for the cause of army discipline, are unbelievable. Cox is a fine hero, he ‘does’ dignity well, but you can’t help thinking he is a fool.

Cox gets your sympathy (which is the last thing the character should have) especially given who he is up against – the Elector Frederick in the form of Ian McDiarmid. Playing an evil emperor is bread and butter to McDiarmid (he is the bad guy in the Star Wars films) but he really does excel at it. Bringing every subtlety out of the character he adds humour as well as chilling efficiency to the role. You never doubt him. He is full of frustrations and fears as well as being the consummate politician.

The Prince of Homburg is a classy affair with a stylish design from Angela Davies and a strong supporting cast that often seems wasted. McDiarmid alone makes this production worth seeing. His performance is one of those masterclass affairs that occur far less frequently than we are led to believe. Just don’t expect to get very much else from the evening.

Until 4 September 2010


Written 2 August 2010 for The London Magazine