The Royal Shakespeare Society's stage adaptation of Roald Dahl’s, Matilda, is a superb roller-coaster through the full range of human emotion says Fiona Adams. 5 STARS
Matilda the Musical
There are not many musicals on the West End where one of the opening numbers includes a line about a smarting ‘front bottom’, but Matilda (at the Cambridge Theatre) is not most musicals.
Although it has been running since 2010 it’s fair to say that there are still a fair few Londoners and Surreyites who won’t have seen it. Ticket prices notwithstanding, many of us simply forget that we have an incredible array of world-class theatre just a train ride away in central London.
Matilda really is that rare thing – a production that will entertain everyone and the audience on the night I visited certainly reflected that, with couples, families and people of all ages, all equally entranced by this musical assault on the senses.
Of course, Roald Dahl’s original story (immortalized in film with Danny DeVito and Rhea Perlman) is an absolute corker, telling the tale of unwanted Matilda, the second child of a second-hand car salesman and a mother who spends her time ballroom dancing. Left to her own devices, fiendlishly clever Matilda turns to books for company, a habit that infuriates her parents. Eventually being sent to school – a terrifying place run by an ex shot-putter Miss Trunchbull – Matilda discovers not only friends, both young and old, but magical powers which she puts to hilarious effect.
Comedian Tim Minchin wrote the music and lyrics for this stage production (hence some of the wacky lyrics) and the show is enchanting from the moment you sit down and take in the set, which consists of hundreds of letters suspended over and around the stage. You can pick out words, such as ‘acrobats’, which turns out to have some significance (of more later).
Once the curtain is up it is all bright lights, bright colours and jaw-dropping performances. This is a children’s story and the children in the more prominent roles (Sara Sheen as Matilda and Ben Lewis as Bruce Bogtrotter) and indeed all those in the chorus are simply brilliant – confident, of excellent voice and full of vigour and energy. Miss Trunchbull (played with obvious delight by Craige Els ) is tall, menacing and mean while Matilda’s parents are gloriously distasteful in every way.
Aside the main story, there are marvellously in-your-face interludes between Mrs Wormwood and her dance partner Rodolfo, who is terribly flexible with very tight trousers. As I said, there is something for everyone. Significantly though is the sub-plot; woven through Matilda’s story is another that she relays to her local librarian (played by Sharlene Whyte of Tracy Beaker fame), which as it tragically unfolds, we discover is that of Miss Honey’s parents – an escapologist and an acrobat. Things turn out alright for Miss Honey in the end, as they do for Matilda, but the musical takes you on a roller-coaster ride through all human emotions.
Yes, you will feel the sharp taste of loneliness, sadness and neglect, but you will also leave on an absolute magical wave of joy. It is witty, funny and clever, with scenes that will make you gasp and songs that will make you belly laugh. It really is that good.
Matilda is showing at the Cambridge Theatre until October 2017. For tickets visit uk.matildathemusical.com
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