As many of you are aware, the RSC is bringing Matilda the Musical to the West End in the next few weeks with it opening on the 18th October. I was lucky enough to see it a couple of times when it was at Stratford last Christmas. The first time I saw it prompted me to write this mammoth blog about it. It’s not really a review and might be a bit spoilery at times.
So I thought, to continue the theme of Matilda posts I seem to be going through at the moment I’d share this with you!
So, last night I trundled along to Stratford-upon-Avon to visit the RSC’s Courtyard Theatre for the third performance of their Christmas show, Matilda, The Musical.
Boasting music and lyrics by Tim Minchin, a book by Dennis Kelly and based on one of Roald Dahl’s most loved stories the show is promising from the outset. And to be honest, by the time 10:05pm came along and the show ended, I still wanted more!!
As the show is still in the preview stage there may well be a few changes before it officially opens, but as it stands the show is almost flawless. The performance I saw had Adrianna Bertola in the title role of Matilda. At only 11 years old she carries the whole show on her shoulders and has a huge amount of responsibility to ensure that the audience are involved in the story at all times. She also has the almighty role of telling a heart wrenching story to the librarian, Mrs Phelps (played be Melanie La Berrie) about a…. well that will give it away, but the story forms the main sub plot of the show. Talking about Mrs Phelps, she is like the grandmother Matilda yearns for and is the warm Caribbean older lady we all know.
Those familiar with the book will be aware that Matilda’s family don’t really care about Matilda. In the show Mr Wormwood, her dad played fantastically by Paul Kaye (better known to some as Dennis Pennis) is the victim to the pranks set up by Matilda and uses his comedic background to full advantage throughout the whole production – including the interval…. (don’t take too long getting your merchandise in the interval.) Mrs Wormwood (Josie Walker) is now a wannabe champion dancer and her dancing partner Rudolpho (Matthew Malthouse) is an addition to the story. Rudolpho is an interesting addition. He has a welcome purpose to occupy Mrs Wormwood and make her more of a character, but he does seem to outstay his welcome a little bit towards the end. However Mrs Wormwood and Rudolpho do perform a song called ‘Loud’ which is, as you can imagine, loud and is very different to the tone of the rest of the show. A slight disappointment to the Wormwood family is Michael. It’s been a while since I read the book but I remember him as, though not very clever, very eager to follow in his dad’s footsteps. In the show though he becomes very Kevin the Teenager-esque but with tourettes…
One thing that never disappoints however is Bertie Carvel as Miss Trunchbull. From Miss Trunchbull’s first appearance to the character’s (I don’t want to call Miss Trunchbull her or him!) downfall, Carvel is a domineering force to be reckoned with. Miss Honey, however, is the complete opposite. Played by (the sometimes spitting image of Meryl Streep) Lauren Ward she is sweet (as her cottage says), caring, and completely innocent. Ward has an amazing voice and she portrays any emotion that Minchin’s songs convey and is so utterly believable. Having done a lot of character work between the two teachers in many job interviews (for those that don’t know I’m a primary teacher) I could identify every trait that the characters have.
The children in the show are all amazing! Considering it was the third preview, and there are three sets of children it is quite possible that the performance I saw was the first time they had performed. The role of Bruce, the chocolate cake eating lad was played by Kuan Frye. Bruce has a much bigger role in the musical and this is a very good thing!! One of the funniest moments comes from Bruce just moments before the famous chocolate cake eating moment…. all I shall say is watch the purple spot…. Also Lavender, Matilda’s best friend is unbelievably cute! I think I saw Ruby Bridle as Lavender (I’m not too sure though – would be good if the RSC could number the children’s casts as 1 2 and 3 and say which is performing and make it known in the program which group which child is in but that’s just me being picky). Think Tiffany Butcher in EastEnders and that was Lavender.
Reading the bios of the child cast there are some very seasoned young people. There is one who was in the best film of last year, Nativity! There’s Jake Pratt, a regular on the Paul O Grady show and lots of former Mary Poppins, Oliver and Chitty children. The whole cast are fantastic and the older members work alongside the younger seamlessly.
Tim Minchin has written some fantastic songs for the show. The opening number showcases the children from the outset, Miss Honey’s songs show the character at her best and the big ensemble numbers really help carry the story along. He also challenges the young actors. The second number of the show, and Matilda’s first song is called ‘Naughty’. It’s a lengthy song and Matilda is literally the only person on the stage for the whole song. It’s a fantastic song and channels Matilda’s thoughts and reasons behind doing her pranks on her father. The staging of the songs also help to stress how good Michin’s work is. For example ‘The Smell of Rebellion’ which involves lots of gym mats and other equipment is then suddenly frozen for the amazingly, lyrically complicated for anyone yet alone an 11 year old, ‘Quiet’. However, the song that has stuck in my head (maybe more so as its the song on the preview video I posted yesterday) is the song ‘When I Grow Up’ which opens Act 2. It’s good when sung by Minchin but so much better when sung by the cast.
One of the challenges that the story brings to those bringing it to the stage is the magic and the Trunchbull punishments. You’ll be glad to hear that Lavender is still thrown, the cake still eaten and that the glass of water still tips. However, although the chalk still moves… (and I can’t write anymore about that – I still want to be able to go to the theatre!) The design is fantastic. Quentin Blake’s illustrations have been a key feature to the design. Miss Trunchbull IS Miss Trunchbull from the book. Mr Wormwood has the ugly suit and the hair from the book and Blake even designed the school badges that adorn he school gates and blazers of the uniforms. The set is covered in scrabble pieces with those around the orchestra having musical notes. The sets are very ‘square’ like scrabble tiles, and words play a large part in the design. The lighting works fantastically – especially during Matilda’s story to Miss Phelps which, when it reaches it’s conclusion has a fantastic piece of… (once again I’m not going to say!).
Kelly has written a fantastic adaptation that suits Minchin’s music and lyrics perfectly. The design fits right in and the choreography is challenging (sometimes very Spring Awakening) but perfect. There are a couple of minor issues – the last song takes a while to work and is sung by a brand new character which is kind of nodded to throughout so it doesn’t seem so important, which is a pain as it *is* the last song (they should sing When I Grow Up after they bow to remind us how good it is!) And I felt a tiny bit let down by the chalk… However it is a brilliant show. I had goosebumps throughout, a smile across my face for pretty much all of it apart from the sad bits, and thinking about it today it is still fairly fresh in my mind (and I have a bad memory!)
It’s not quite a 10 out of 10, but too good to be a 9 out of 10 so I guess its about 9.8 out of 10. If you can get to the Courtyard Theatre in Stratford then make a date to go see Matilda, The Musical. However, if you have a phobia of swings don’t sit in the first couple of rows.