The RSC have hit the musical jackpot once again with Matilda, visit a show of bite, check bile and some brilliance based on Roald Dahl’s popular children’s story about a young girl who is utterly neglected by her horrible parents and finds a refuge in books and storytelling.
Matthew Warchus’s production bursts into giddy, invigorating life in the wonderful choreography of Peter Darling and the jaunty, tuneful songs of Tim Minchin, and features a performance that is both hilarious and malevolent from Bertie Carvel as the vile headmistress of Matilda’s school.
West End transfer to the Cambridge Theatre, reviewed for the Sunday Express, November 2011
For double proof that the British theatre is the best in the English-speaking universe, you need look no further than the arrival in the West End this week of two five star shows that between them make a perfect ten. These scintillating entertainments also demonstrate the sheer breadth and vitality of the RSC and National where they respectively originated, and both create waves of pleasure from the audience that are actually audible.
The roars of approval that greet the giddily enjoyable songs of Australian comic Tim Minchin in the RSC’s musical adaptation of Roald Dahl’s Matilda shake the theatre. Wittily animated by Peter Darling’s choreography, the songs are folded by playwright Dennis Kelly into the moving story of a bright young girl, utterly neglected by her stupid parents, who finds escape in books, storytelling and the new friendship she forges with her teacher Miss Honey (lovely Lauren Ward).
A major challenge – and a big part of its success – is to follow Billy Elliot’s lead in making a child actor carry the narrative burden. Kelly Ingram, who I saw in the role, brings a quivering vulnerability to it, but also a survivor’s resilience that is both moving and full of high, truthful stakes.
That anchors the show, even when other characters are painted in broader comic brushstrokes. The role of the vile headmistress Miss Agatha Trunchbull may be a two-dimensional comic villain, but entrusting the role to a man gives it an extra grotesque edge, and Bertie Carvel creates a truly memorable monster of her that is full of malevolent danger.
Broadway transfer to Shubert Theatre, originally reviewed for the Sunday Express, April 2013
Broadway’s biggest, boldest and best new musical of the year, meanwhile, is Matilda, imported from the West End where it continues to run at the Cambridge Theatre. It scored a record seven wins at last year’s Olivier Awards, and is likely to exceed that at the Tony’s in New York if the reception it is getting there is anything to go by.
The show remains a miracle of craft and art that speaks to the child in all of us as it re-visits a story of a badly neglected young girl who finds her own salvation in literature and the kindness of a teacher. As she finds her own redemption in storytelling, the musical tells its own story beautifully in the songs of Tim Minchin and Dennis Kelly’s book. London’s Bertie Carvel reprises his monstrous and hilarious turn as the head teacher Miss Trunchbull; but the real stars are the quartet of moppets who alternate in the title role. I happened to see two of them on the same night as one went off ill in the middle of the show, and both were touching and terrific.
Originally reviewed at Stratford-upon-Avon’s Courtyard Theatre for The Stage. Read the review on The Stage here.