Fun, funky and thoroughly magical, this cultural classic is brought to life with so much spectacle and joy, you’ll feel the thrills of a rollercoaster ride and the uplift of a Christmas special – but none of the saccharine elements that make grown-up’s teeth hurt. Kids empathise with kind and wise Matilda and relish the subversion of a world where so many adults are figures of ridicule.
The bright and bold modernist set, that towers over the stage and looks close to tumbling into the stalls, is fascinating and world-building for kids as they pick out letters and symbols before the lights dim. Curious young faces are fixed straight ahead as the opening number begins with plenty of energy and becomes a hummable tune for the way home. Interest and musical engagement continue without distraction even over two acts of reasonable duration.
On our performance night, there was a ‘technical problem’ shortly after the interval. A 15- minute delay after the barn-storming number ‘When I Grow Up’, was unfortunate because the energy of the preceding scene is enchanting and the spell was broken. It turned out the first Matilda was sadly taken il. The challenges and realities of live theatre serve as an education to a young audience and deepen admiration for the feat this production is. Zoe Simon, a true trouper, was in costume and on stage without hesitation and bounded into her performance with real moxie and charm from the get-go – both girls giving disciplined and delightful performances with top-notch vocal skill.
Hayden Tee’s Miss Trunchbull is a show-stealer and the immediacy of marching up and down the aisles makes the experience all the more menacing and exciting for the audience. The craven Wormwoods (Marianne Benedict and Rob Compton), compassionate librarian. Mrs Phelps (Malinda Parris) and kind-hearted but wistful Miss Honey (Gina Beck) all balance as a wonderful, rich ensemble of the good, the bad and the truly revolting. Kids love the dance numbers and the non-stop silliness. I was a bit worried about some of the scarier elements, such as when the horrors of Miss Trunchbull’s school are enacted. But my 7-year-old co-critics were undisturbed – guffawing and gasping in equal measures of attention and intrigue. Big sound and light effects in the final scenes provide just enough surprise but no terror; (although for children with sensory issues, ear defenders might be advised at the ready for the second act).
Matilda is a classic and this production, now in its ninth year, has become a franchise in its own right. As with all franchises, beware of Total Merchandising. The world of Matilda is delightful and you will probably want a souvenir but the conspicuous and mercenary nature of the merchandising (for example, £5 for a fridge magnet when other tourist spots price them at about £3) does start to feel slightly like a mugging that would (almost) put Walt Disney himself to shame. I have no objection to paying a premium to support the theatre, but – especially with the RSC brand attached – the producers and theatre operators may want to think further about the impact on the valuable equity of the Matilda brand if they push it too far. Disappointingly, unlike every other West End theatre that offers jugs of tap water at the end of the bar for all patrons, it seems (at least on our night) the Cambridge Theatre is so money-grubbing it won’t offer free hydration to scores of children no matter how well their parents’ pockets had already been picked via £4 bags of sweets. I hope they re-think this tacky and dated profiteering (if it is actual policy and not just an off night) – not least for the environmental damage caused by the only available water is that sold in plastic bottles.
Review by Mary Beer
Matilda The Musical is the multi-award winning musical from the Royal Shakespeare Company, inspired by the beloved book by the incomparable Roald Dahl.
With book by Dennis Kelly and original songs by Tim Minchin, Matilda The Musical is the story of an extraordinary little girl who, armed with a vivid imagination and a sharp mind, dares to take a stand and change her own destiny.
Winner of over 85 international awards, including 16 for Best Musical, Matilda continues to delight audiences of all ages and will embark on its first UK & Ireland Tour in March 2018.
Matilda The Musical
Cambridge Theatre, London