It’s somewhat ironic that the Royal Shakespeare Company’s biggest success is not staging a work by ‘The Bard’ but another British treasure, Roald Dahl, and his much-loved story about a little girl called Matilda, first published in 1988. Matilda The Musical premièred at the RSC’s Courtyard Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon in November 2010 where the production played to sold-out audiences before transferring to London’s West End. It opened at the Cambridge Theatre in October 2011 where it is still delighting children (or should I say maggots) and adults alike, for “Bambinatum est maggitum” (children are maggots) is the motto of Crunchem Hall School, a place which we can all strangely relate to, and presided over by the evil Miss Trunchbull. Although I still can’t see what’s so bad about a school that force-feeds its pupils chocolate cake.
Having finally just seen the show after no longer being able to shrug off the many recommendations from friends, I can fully understand the countless awards it received at the 2012 Olivier Awards (Best Actress for the four girls who played Matilda in the original West End cast, Best New Musical, Best Actor in a Musical (Bertie Carvel as Trunchbull), Best Director, Best Theatre Choreographer, Best Set Design and Best Sound Design) and its still remarkably fresh, although the children’s voice coaches need to keep an eye on the sound quality – our Matilda (Lizzie Wells), whilst an excellent actress, had a tendency to shout instead of sing, which made it hard to hear all the lyrics as clearly as we would have liked.
Written by playwright Dennis Kelly, with music and lyrics by the Australian comedian, musician and composer Tim Minchin and directed by Matthew Warchus, the vivid costume and set designs by Rob Howell are a kaleidoscope of colour, with choreography by Peter Darling that amazes with super-fast precision which elevates the entire production (literally). But it remains the unquestionable genius of Minchin, who has succeeded in bringing some of Dahl’s most celebrated characters to life like never before. It’s fair to say that a new generation of children have been introduced to the author through songs like ‘Naughty’, ‘When I Grow Up’ and ‘Miracle’ which features in the first scene and is an amusing take on all parents believing their child the cleverest, funniest, best-looking infant ever to have been born.
All of course save Matilda’s horrible parents, Mr Wormword (Michael Begley) a dodgy car salesman, who persists in referring to her as ‘boy’ and Mrs Wormword (Rebecca Thornhill) an obsessive dance champion. However, it was Craige Els’ performance of Trunchbull that had the school children in the audience in shrieks of laughter, with Miria Parvin as Matilda’s teacher Miss Honey adding just enough sentiment to make them all ahhhh at the happy ending. There are currently simultaneous productions running in London, Australia and New York (where it was the first RSC premiere on Broadway for 15 years ), plus a tour taking place across the US. Just like Matilda’s love of reading, there’s no sign of the passion for the show diminishing and so, can the RSC please just focus on Roald Dahl adaptations from now on? Perhaps they could even launch a sister company called the Royal Dahl Company – what d’ya think?
Matilda The Musical at the Cambridge Theatre, 32-34 Earlham Street, London, WC2 9HU, currently booking until December 2016. For more information and tickets visit the website.