I had the pleasure of attending the opening night of Royal Shakespeare Company‘s masterpiece, Matilda the Musical, at Curve Leicester last night as the curtain raised on its highly anticipated UK tour. Resident at the Cambridge Theatre, Matilda the Musical now embarks on its first venture around the country since it opened at Stratford Upon Avon 8 years ago and it’s still as vivacious, vibrant and downright hilarious as it was the day it opened.
It’s a story we all know and love. Based on the popular book by Roald Dahl, we visit a lonely little girl called Matilda, who is continually ostracised and shunned by the very people who are supposed to love her unconditionally – her family. Matilda finds solace in her books and regaling her charming librarian with fantastical stories. Eventually, her incredible intelligence catches the eye of her teacher, Miss Honey, eventually leading to both Matilda and Miss Honey to find happiness and a new-found family in each other.
Before we get our happily ever after, however, Matilda encounters the wickedness that is headmistress Miss Trunchbull, who takes sheer delight out of bullying children and locking them in the dreaded Chokey. Matilda’s anger at the unfairness of the situation leads her to unlocking magic powers, which eventually help her and her classmates to revolt against the evil headmistress, and get their school back. It’s a well-known story that is bound to bring a tear to the eye at times, and although the story is quite far-fetched in parts (even more so on stage), it’s rooted in the very basic, very understandable fact that every single child needs to feel loved and understood.
This is a cast full of insanely talented kids. You know – the sort that make you take a good long look at yourself and wonder how they have more talent in their little finger aged 10 than you have in your entire body aged 25. Matilda’s self-proclaimed ‘best friend’ Lavender (Louella Asante-Owusu) was fantastic and incredibly funny in her role. Elliot Stiff as Bruce and Lyla Toplass as Amanda also deserve a lot of praise, and are all already very impressive triple threats for such young kids.
Mr and Mrs Wormwood (Sebastian Torkia, Rebecca Thornhill) were downright hilarious and almost totally stole the show. For two such dark characters that could very easily have been penned as archetypal ‘baddies’, with their constant evil quips to Matilda and their foul way of looking at the world, these two received a well-deserved ovation rather than classic pantomime ‘boos’ at the end for delivering pure comedy gold throughout the show. Their costumes were almost as impressive as Mr Wormwood’s larger than life hair.
Craig Els simply blew me away as Miss Trunchbull. Having played Trunchbull in the West End, his knowledge of the role is palpable. With incredibly tight comedy timing, Craig delivers every evil look and witty one-liner perfectly. It’s hard to sum up just how good he really is in this role – his performance is a triumph and complemented perfect by Miss Honey (Carly Thoms), who spreads sweetness and light to every scene she enters. Her version of ‘My House’ is heartbreaking and is sure to bring a tear to the eye.
Last but certainly not least, treading the boards as Matilda last night was Nicola Turner, who did an absolutely phenomenal job as our leading lady. With a voice big and strong enough to fill the entire auditorium (and then some), this little girl has an incredibly promising future ahead of her. In a role that must be quite hard to put your own stamp on when it’s choreographed down to a T, she makes it her own and embodies the character completely. With both beautiful and powerful vocals, and she nails every single song she turns her attention to.
Choreography by Peter Darling is jaw-droppingly good, unsurprisingly. I dare you to not take a sharp intake of breath during songs such as When I Grow Up and School Song when one foot or hand wrong from one of these youngsters will cause injury.
I can’t review the show without mentioning the genius that is Tim Minchin, who penned the music and lyrics to this masterpiece. I can only hope that Tim goes on to write many, many more musicals as this world simply needs much more of his musical genius. The score is an absolute treat to listen to and I urge anyone who can’t go and see the show itself to at least listen to the soundtrack – it’s just incredible.
Some movie-turned-musicals struggle to live up to the hype of the film they’re based on, but Matilda finds its own home on stage. The stage story features aspects that aren’t included in the film, and equally leaves other bits out. The stage show is an entirely different entity to the film, and perfectly complements it without trying to emulate it or improve it.
Acting, direction, choreography, lighting, set design, costumes – every single aspect of this production is simply sublime. If I could give it more than 5 stars, I would.
Reviewed by Rosie Bambury
Photo: Manuel Harlan