Review: Roald Dahl’s Matilda: The Musical, Cambridge Theatre, 12/04/2012
When? Thursday 12th April 2012
Where? Cambridge Theatre, London, dress circle
Who? Tim Walton, Josie Walker, Paul Kaye, Peter Howe, Melanie La Barrie, Lauren Ward, Matthew Malthouse, Emily Shaw, Bertie Carvel, Gary Watson, Verity Bentham, Marc Antolin, Nick Searle, Lucy Thatcher, Matthew Clark, Michael Kent, Katy Monk, Rachel Moran, Leanne Pinder, Cleo Demetriou, Kerry Ingram, Sophia Kiely, Eleanor Worthington Cox, Jake Bailey, James Beesley, Zachary Harris, Callum Henderson, Ruby Bridle, Jemima Eaton, Ellie Simons, William Keeler, Alfie Manser, Jaydon Vijn, Lily Laight, Isobelle Molloy, Lucy May Pollard, Toby Murray, Louis Suc, Ted Wilson, Alicia Gould, Jemima Morgan, Annabel Parsons, Oonagh Cox, Fleur Houdijk, Katie Lee, Thomas Atkinson, Jamie Kaye, Jake Pratt
Foreword; incompetence, failed actors and intense loathing at the Cambridge Theatre box office:
In search of the most elusive commodity – a helpful front of house assistant – I absent-mindedly wandered into the Cambridge Theatre’s cramped box office/foyer to enquire about availability for the much-hyped Matilda: The Musical, the RSC’s most recent attempt to get ‘down with the kids’. Upon approaching the balding, bitter box office assistant, I had the sheer audacity to ask if tickets were available at any performances that week. With a smirk and a smug ‘No’, the conversation was abruptly ended. I asked the employee if day seats, returns or single seats were available. Another smirk, another two lettered reply in the negative. I asked when tickets would be available. The employee, with a mighty sigh, reluctantly checked his computer. With a mighty super-smirk he leans forward; “Oh, actually, I do have two single seats available for tomorrow night”, a lengthy pause ensued before he gleefully delivers the punchline, “Yes, they are £82.50 each in the dress circle”. I thanked the employee for his ‘help’ and left. Deciding the ‘customer service’ assistant was being intentionally obnoxious, I tried the Seetickets box office number from outside the theatre and, naturally, secured two wonderful seats in the dress circle for that night. A big congratulations to the Cambridge Theatre box office team for hiring only the most inept and unhelpful theatre employees available; I can only hope that you are duly smirked at when requesting emergency medical care.
And the show..?
Adapted from Roald Dahl’s ever popular 1988 children’s novel, Matilda: The Musical tells the story of Matilda Wormwood, an extraordinarily gifted child of two repugnant, vile parents. Seeking refuge in books and sanctuary in school, Matilda’s brilliant mind and deeply ethical social conscience see her draw the hatred of her matriarchal headmistress, Miss Trunchbull, a former Olympic hammer-throwing bully. Aided by her motherly teacher Miss Honey, who recognises Matilda’s incredible gift, she fights to overturn the injustice she suffers at home and at school.
Family shows are fiendishly difficult to do to a good standard – the balance between ‘children’s’ and ‘family’ is a fine one. Backed by some wonderful new songs, impressive staging and a great sense of humour, which neither patronises children or irritates adults, Matilda is as charming and witty as any family show I have seen; the new songs by Tim Minchin (orchestrations by Chris Nightingale) are memorable and catchy and several weeks after my visit I can still hum every major tune from the show – a rare feat for a first visit to a brand new musical.
Dennis Kelly’s book adaptation is joyous; all of the classic Dahlisms remain, but some aspects have been updated to suit a modern audience. In a minor change from the novel, Mrs. Wormwood (Josie Walker) now has a penchant for ballroom dancing instead of bingo (which naturally means an amusing ballroom song and dance number with her comedy foreigner dance partner, Rudolpho (Gary Watson)). The lively physical staging is enthralling to watch; “When I Grow Up”, stood out as a particularly memorable number as the extremely talented and professional cast of children fearlessly ride playground swings – some laid on their front – around fifteen feet in the air at their peak! Trunchbull oversees a gym glass complete with crash mat and pommel horse – and brings the house down with her own gymnastic display. The creative team deserve much of the lofty praise they have received, every aspect of the production merges together wonderfully well to creative a memorable aesthetic to the piece. Rob Howell’s set and costume design is vibrant and beautiful, the transformation of the proscenium of the theatre is indicative of the show’s attention to detail. Peter Darling’s choreography is cheery and fun, the illusions from magician Paul Kieve are bewildering, especially in the second act. Hugh Vanstone’s lighting design is spectacular and shows off Howell’s stirling work beautifully. Director Matthew Warchus keeps the acting zipping along and his work is some of his finest to date.
The cast are superb, with Bertie Carvel giving the standout performance as Miss. Trunchbull. Carvel’s performance is perfectly weighted, playing it largely straight, the material works around him without ever having to force the humour or let his performance drift into pantomime dame. His is an actor’s performance and proves an inspired piece of casting, Carvel is worth the ticket money alone. He remains in the role until 1st July 2012. The performance I attended was the last show for young Kerry Ingram as Matilda. She gave her all and was absolutely lovely in the role. Incidentally, Ingram was one of the Matilda’s to feature on the cast recording, her singing was pitch-perfect and her acting honest and believable, from the cheeky ‘Naughty’ to the acting-through-song showcase ‘I’m Here’, young Ingram did herself proud on her personal farewell to the show. Paul Kaye keeps just on the acceptable side of hammy as Mr. Wormwood, although he is given the weakest number of the show ‘Telly’, which takes place during the interval, I’m sure his deceased alter-ego Dennis Pennis might have something to say about the over the top nature of his turn. Peter Howe, Samwise Gamgee in the sadly departed The Lord of the Rings Musical (which was, incidentally produced by largely the same production team including Warchus and Howell with several other Rings alumni appearing in this show) is criminally underused as Michael, the Wormwood’s gormless son. Lauren Ward is outstanding as Miss Honey, possibly the nicest person in the world, ever (apart from Matilda, obviously), Ward’s singing proving as strong as her acting.
Matilda has just become the most decorated show in the 36 years of the Olivier Awards, and it is easy to understand why the judges have rewarded it so generously*. Matilda is the hottest ticket in town right now for a reason; it is a tight, thrilling show which oozes charm by the bucketload. It is funny, it is moving and the music and staging will be the inspiration for thousands of children to become more involved with the arts. It is undoubtedly a must-see production (if you are able to get tickets without dealing with surly assistants) – but I have a feeling it is one to see as soon as possible, before standards slip and star turn Carvel leaves the company.
- Harry Zing
*Being a) RSC, b) a child-friendly production and c) way above the average standard of previous productions filling both a) and b)’s criteria. I think of truly great new works and they are thin on the ground; but the best ‘new’ show (which is actually an adaptation) of the last 36 years? I’m not so sure. I really enjoyed Matilda, it simply whizzes by and I was grinning throughout – Matilda is pure, harmless fun and a great way to involve children in the theatre by taking them to a visually entertaining, entirely accessible show. But does it have anything to say – does it break new territory? Or is it just a superbly executed and endearing family show? I ponder how many Olivier Awards a truly groundbreaking piece like Next to Normal would be given and grimace.