This stellar musical adaptation of Roald Dahl's classic is a real treat for adults and children alike.
Since its opening at the Courtyard Theatre, Stratford, in 2010, the Royal Shakespeare Company’s ground-breaking production of Matilda has been stunning audiences around the world for nearly a decade. Based on Roald Dahl’s beloved tale, this musical has played both in the West End and on Broadway, as well as touring throughout the US, Australia and New Zealand, winning countless awards along the way. It is now currently touring the UK and has finally arrived at Southampton’s own Mayflower Theatre, after much anticipation amongst excited theatre goers.
Many are familiar with Dahl’s famous book, which tells the story of a gifted little girl born to a family who do not understand her intellect and ridicule her for it. As she grows old enough to go to school, she finds herself facing the fearsome headmistress, Miss Trunchbull, who punishes children for crimes they did not commit. In the face of injustice, Matilda is determined to help her school friends and her teacher, the timid Miss Honey, by fighting for what is right.
The musical itself is incredible. Australian comedian and songwriter Tim Minchin, who wrote the music and lyrics for the production, has a very clever way with words, many of the songs utilising subtle yet ingenious word play and rhythms to great effect. The brilliance of certain numbers like School Song become even clearer when performed on stage, which was great fun to witness. Combined with Dennis Kelly’s witty and heartfelt book, the musical is smart enough to be enjoyed by adults whilst also retaining the family-friendliness needed for a musical based on a Roald Dahl novel. It is a pity that, due to occasional sound imbalances which may have been due to microphone issues on the particular night I was in the audience, many words which are crucial in understanding Minchin’s songs especially were lost due to actors occasionally being overpowered by the orchestra. Nonetheless, do not let this slight error deter you from seeing the show, for it is an outstanding production.
It seems unfair to single out individuals in a show where the ensemble is so strong and integral to the performance, yet it must be done nonetheless. Firstly, from someone who usually finds children in shows to be a little irritating (nothing to do with the fact that they’re more talented than I’ll ever be and they’re half my age, promise), the cast of children are fantastic. They are funny, intelligent and just overall talented, and that is highly impressive from a group aged around 8-10. The actress who played Matilda in particular, a part shared amongst five young girls who take turns playing the title role each night, was as gifted as the character she played is, speaking and singing with a level of projection, sophistication and professionalism you could expect from an actor three times her age. In her fight for justice she is genuinely inspiring, and her onstage chemistry with Miss Honey, played by Carly Thoms, is touching and lovely to watch; you cannot help but root for the two of them to succeed together as their bond grows ever closer.
However, the standout star of the show, which is no surprise really, was far and away Elliot Harper, who portrayed the delightfully villainous Miss Trunchbull (the character is always played by a man in the show, and the result is fantastic). Harper commanded the stage in a costume which exaggerated some very fake assets; whether it was swinging a girl round by her pigtails (an iconic scene within the film of Matilda which is enacted flawlessly onstage) or prancing around with the rhythmic gymnastics ribbon, he quickly became a firm favourite amongst the audience, despite Miss Trunchbull’s wickedness. In fact, there seems to be a recurring theme of lovable bad characters: Matilda’s parents and brother Michael (played by Sebastien Torkia, Rebecca Thornhill and Matthew Caputo, respectively) provide many of the production’s most entertaining moments, with their extravagant natures combined with (extremely) thick brains.
If you are a fan of the book, the film, or both, then Matilda is certainly worth catching whilst it’s still in Southampton. From the enchanting set design and unforgettable moments (if you’re hoping to see Bruce eat that cake then you’re in luck), to the striking music and endearing cast, this show is a chance to relive your childhood in a truly magical way. We all need a reminder that, as Matilda herself tells us, ‘sometimes you have to be a little bit naughty!’
Matilda the Musical is playing at the Mayflower Theatre, Southampton, until 6 July. Check out the trailer for the London production below: