When Tim Minchin and Dennis Kelly's musical adaptation of Roald Dahl's Matilda first burst forth at London's Cambridge Theatre, it was a fresh breath that was much needed in an art form that had become tired and bogged down by musical theatre stalwarts that talked of rigid rules that applied to writing musicals. Luckily for us, Minchin and Kelly didn't know the rules and in writing, Matilda inadvertently inspired a whole new generation of musical theatre creators and audiences who enjoyed the way that Minchin's humour and Dahl's wonderful characters merged.
Six years later and Matilda remains fresh. At a Tuesday evening performance (top marks for the 7 pm start) packed with adults and children, the show seems as alive as it was when it opened. Not to be confused with the movie adaptation starring Danny DeVito and Pam Ferris, this Matilda is truer to Dahl's book. Dahl's catalogue of grotesque characters are all here, firmly pitted against Matilda, the young children attending Crunchem Hall, Mrs Phelps the librarian and the wonderful Miss Honey. The battle, all centred around one little girl is epic!
Towering over the whole proceedings is the criminally tall Craige Els as Miss Trunchbull. Menacing, insane and ever so slightly ridiculous, it's an epic performance by any means. Minchin's score requires laser sharp delivery to get the humour out of the assonance that would be the downfall of many a performer. Bertie Carvel had a mastery of it and I'm pleased to say so does Els who wields it with deadly force. This Trunchbull is everything you always loved about Quentin Blake's illustrations brought to life, a massive upper frame supported by two spindly (Sorry Craige) legs.
Miria Parvin makes for a delightful Miss Honey, supportive and kind her rendition of My House was as emotive and resonant as you could possibly ask for. Amongst the other ‘goodies' in Matilda is Sharlene Whyte whose Mrs Phelps was about as warm and fabulous as you could ask for.
You really have to feel for Matilda when you cop a look at the Wormwood family. Michael Begley (Mr Wormwood), Daniel Hope (Michael Wormwood) and Rebecca Thornhill (Mrs Wormwood) are thoroughly dispicable. It would be easy for these characters to slide into pantomime villany, the fact that they don't, always remaining thoroughly horrid yet tantalisingly and impossibly real is a tribute to the actors playing them. Add in Daniel Ioannou's Rudolpho, full of fake machismo and you really have to feel sorry for Matilda!
As for Matilda herself played Eva-Marie Saffrey, making her West End debut, no less, this is an almighty role for any young person to undertake. Eva-Marie did so with flair and guts making her Matilda a force to be reckoned with. Matilda is a show which rests on its children and Max Brophy, Olivia Calladine-Smith, Michael Hawkins, Kacy O'Sullivan, Hari Coles, Tori Louise Ryan, Charlotte Fallart and Sebastian Harry were sensational. Peter Darling's choreography would be the downfall of many West End veterans but these guys nailed it looking like they'd been at it for years. Bravo!
Getting Matilda on stage each night takes an army, just looking at the programme credits tells you that. The adults and children in this ensemble make it all seem so effortless whilst no doubt working their butts off. Part of that I'm sure is in no small part down to Laurie Perkins and his band of musicians who keep Matilda running to Minchin's timeclock. There are times when you feel you are running to keep up and that's a good thing because just like Aaron Sorkin's dramas this is a show that relies on all the maggots in the audience paying attention from the get-go.
Don't believe me – get a ticket and find out for yourself!
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