I’ll be honest; I walked out of the theatre at the end with a childish spring in my step and wanting to see the whole show all over again that very minute. As soon as I got home, I was straight onto iTunes to download the album. With its music and lyrics by Australian comedian Tim Minchin, a talented cast, great stage effects, 7 Olivier Awards in 2012 and a Broadway transfer, Matilda is THE musical to see in London.
Matilda was one of my favourite Roald Dahl books as a child; the story of an intelligent girl being brought up by grotesquely stupid parents and sent to a school with a terrifyingly hulkish headmistress, Miss Trunchbull. It is only through Matilda’s escapism into stories and books at the local library with Mrs Phelps and the nurturing tuition of her teacher Miss Honey that she summons the courage to stand up to the awful adults in her life.
The show opens with the wonderfully precocious “My Mummy says I’m a miracle. My Daddy says I’m his special little guy…”, a satisfying jibe at the stereotypical pushy parents obsessed with their perfect children – a song that has been stuck in my head almost ever since. Other stand out songs include Naughty, Telly and the exceptional When I Grow Up which is all about children wanting to be old enough to do what they want, but cleverly written from the adult perspective remembering all the things they thought they’d be able to do as grown-ups.
The kids are fantastic – Matilda (Chloe Hawthorn) is brave and engaging – essential if the audience are to like you – with an irresistible subversiveness, outwitting the adults at every turn; her best friend Lavender (Ella Yard) comes across as a lovely girl with a hint of mischief and the alliteratively named Bruce Bogtrotter (Marcus May) who not only ‘devours’ a whole chocolate cake as a punishment, but also opens Revolting Children with the sort of notes that would give most R&B divas a run for their money.
Miss Trunchbull (David Leonard) is every bit as sinister and menacing as I’d hoped, with a very unsettling girlish giggle which thankfully doesn’t stray into pantomime dame territory. Mr Wormwood (Steve Furst) makes a comically unscrupulous dodgy dealer and Mrs Wormwood (Annette McLaughlin) is unashamedly vain and self-obsessed. At the opposite end of the scale, librarian Mrs Phelps (Melanie La Barrie) is adorably warm and helps to draw us into Matilda’s storytelling scenes and Miss Honey (understudy Lara Denning) who draws her own strength from Matilda and manages to be fragile without being a sympathy case – a very difficult thing to balance.
My only small niggle (and it really is small) is that I was surprised how little time was devoted to Matilda’s telekinetic abilities – I remember there being far more of it in the book. But all in all, the best musical I’ve seen in a long time – an absolute treat for children and adults alike. I’ll definitely be going back for more.
Matilda is at The Cambridge Theatre, Seven Dials, 32-34 Earlham Street, WC2H 9HU and is currently booking until May 2014. The show is suitable for all ages but the theatre recommends it for children aged 6 and up (and adults wishing to indulge their inner child).