Everyone knows and loves Roald Dahl stories – and Matilda is a classic. It tells the tale of a neglected little girl with a miraculous mind. Can she and her favourite teacher, Miss Honey, defeat the evil Miss Trunchbull and save her friends from a school life of misery? It’s a show all about standing up to bullies – a classic David and Goliath moral tale, with a little hint of magic.
Whether you’ve read the book or seen the film, a stage version is always going to be a surprising and delightful addition to the Matilda adaptations. RSC have done an incredible job of bringing the book to life, maintaining Dahl’s deliciously sadistic characters with over-the-top humour that makes them seem laughable rather than terrifying. The cartoon-esque set and costumes (designed by Ben Davies and Rachel Dickson retrospectively) perfectly capture Dahl’s mischievous spirit.
The show itself is incredibly frantic, for all the right reasons. It whips along in pace and the seamless set changes and insane interactions with the set (at one point the characters climb the alphabet and it’s one of the most skilled pieces of stage work I’ve ever seen – you’ll have to see the show to know what I mean). The choreography by Jeroen Luiten is a little spiky for my personal preference which comes across a bit too frantic in places – sometimes you don’t know where to look and it’s slightly overwhelming. The majority of the time, however, the movement is slick and the show whizzes by in a blur of colour and drama.
The cast are absolutely perfect for the production and I can’t really find fault in any of them. I’m a particular fan of Matthew Caputo as Michael Wormwood and Elliot Harper as Miss Trunchbull – both are classic, vile villains yet for this family-friendly show perfectly balance evil and malice with comedy.
The children are off the scale of inspiring. Nicola Turner as Matilda absolutely steals the show, of course. She manages to lead several solo sections like an adult pro. In some ways it’s utterly patronising to say “she was astounding for a child actress” because her standard of performance matches that of the adult performers on stage. Direction by Phil Bartlett throughout is strong, though at times I do feel the children are told to over-enunciate which can be a little irritating.
Tom Lomas as Bruce was also amazing. Again, for a comedy actor he’s on-par with professional adults and owns the stage. I predict big things for him and hope to see him joining a company such as Mischief Theatre when he’s older!
Louella Asante-Owusu as Lavender and Sheldon Golding as Nigel also deserve a mention. It’s hard to bring such confident comedy to a role, yet both really owned their scenes and played up to the audience.
As I enjoy the show I forget I’m watching children and, when there is a mix of adults and children on stage, it’s only really the height difference that differentiates them. The songs are super tricky to stay on top of yet every note and every harmony lands perfectly.
I’m not a huge fan of the musical numbers, as I feel perhaps Tim Minchin is trying a little too hard to be quirky, sassy and witty. The songs are all of those things, and I’m impressed by them, just perhaps not toe-tapping along to them as I’d prefer.
This musical is in a league of its own in terms of set design, costumes, general vibe and characterisation and mesmerisingly brilliant cast. In terms of the music and story I would probably pick other musicals over this one, but I’ve not seen a show so technically interesting before so I’d recommend anyone go to take a look at how it’s done.
Catch Matilda at Bradford Alhambra until 23rd March 2019.
Photography credited to Manuel Harlan