Matilda The Musical, the touring production from The Royal Shakespeare Company starts its Edinburgh theatrical run at the Playhouse Theatre this week (Tuesday 2nd to Saturday 27th April), and it is going to entertain the young and the young at heart with effortless ease.
Matilda The Musical (first performed in 2010) is of course an adaptation of the classic Roald Dahl story which was published in 1988. It was adapted as an audio reading by actress Kate Winslet, a 1996 feature film directed by Danny DeVito, and a two-part BBC Radio 4 programme. Many readers of the original book will also remember the illustrations by Quentin Blake, and this production has kept true to that wonderful world of visual anarchy.
This RSC production is from the creative team of Dennis Kelly (Stage Book), Tim Minchin (Music & Lyrics), Peter Darling (Choreography), Rob Howell (Set & Costume Design), Hugh Vanstone (Lighting Design ) and Matthew Warchus (Directed and Developed by).
Roald Dahl as a writer instinctively understood that children love an element of “horror and terror” in their stories rather than sugar coated ones, and this stage production brings his trademark stories and characters to vivid life. Living up to every child’s imagination of a truly horrible Headmistress is former Olympic Hammer throwing champion Miss Trunchbull, and Elliot Harper is perfect for this role. There are moments here in song and dance routines where I can also see Elliot as a wonderful “Frank N Furter” in Rocky Horror. Miss Trunchbull is a completely insane and over the top in every sense of the word character who delights in sending bad children to “The Chokey” for punishment, and Elliot is obviously having a lot of fun here with her and taking this role to its limits. In complete contrast to this school ogre is the super-sweet and down on her luck teacher Miss Honey who is played to perfection by Carly Thomas. Carly and Elliot make a very good on-stage team and together their comedy timing brings out the very best in a very sharp script.
This is of course Matilda’s story and whoever is playing that role will always steal this show, but that does not take anything away from the fact that Scarlett Cecil is a superb Matilda, and when someone this young can so confidently command a huge stage like The Playhouse Theatre, you can only wonder what is to come from them in future years. In typical Roald Dahl fashion though, Matilda’s home-life is less than perfect and she fits in there like a “Cuckoo in the Nest”. For such a gifted child prodigy, poor Matilda could have no worse, no less interested, or less supportive parents than Mr Wormwood (Sebastien Torkia) and Mrs Wormwood (Rebecca Thornhill). Together both of them are terrible parents (individually they are too) and turning both of them into a vaudeville comedy duo works so well here. WARNING – there is a comedy performance between Act 1 and Act II at the interval, try not to miss too much of it.
There are some nice supporting role here too – Librarian Mrs Phelps (Michelle Chantelle Hopewell,) Mrs Wormwood’s dance partner Rudolpho (Matt Gillett) and delivery room Doctor (Peter Bindloss). This show is of course always going to be made or broken with the children in the cast and it is not fair to single any of them out here as every one of them was perfect for their respective roles.
This is of course a musical, and the marriage of the music, lyrics and choreography is perfectly blended here into Roald Dahl’s original story. There are some very good songs here and probably one of the best known is "When I Grow Up". My advice to this of course has to be –“Don’t do It” – it’s not worth the effort, stay child-like as long as you possibly can. For me though, the song of the show belongs to Miss Honey with the wonderful words that make up "My House".
Matilda The Musical is a large scale production and coming from The Royal Shakespeare Company you would expect attention to every little detail, and that is exactly what you get. At every step of the production process it is obvious from what is on stage that no detail has been left unattended to here – just look for the repeated spelling of MATILDA to start with. Also here, a wonderfully inventive take on the classic “I am Spartacus” scene. The cake-eating scene is one that will stay in every ones minds after this show too, and any writer who can get “Tardis” into a song lyric in a situation like this has my full approval and admiration.
This show is selling out quickly, but if you get the chance, try and catch it while it is here as it is not often that everything seems to come together so perfectly on any production.
Review by Tom King