With its origins as the Royal Shakespeare Company’s 2010 festive show, nine years down the line, Dennis Kelly and Tim Minchin’s musical adaptation of Roald Dahl’s Matilda has been seen by over eight million people around the globe. Winning awards and smashing box office records wherever it goes (and deservedly so) the transformation of a much-adored but thematically and emotionally challenging children’s book was never going to be easy, taking its creators seven years to develop from page to stage – but boy was it worth it.
There are few other musicals, let alone one largely written for a child audience, that is a genuine emotional rollercoaster, laugh-out-loud funny and entirely entertaining from curtain up to curtain down for an audience of all ages. Never shying away from the darker corners of human nature, it re-iterates throughout that despite this one having one, not all stories have a happy ending. An unexpected and unwelcome addition to the grotesque Wormwood family, five-and-a-half-year-old prodigy with telekinetic powers Matilda (Scarlett Cecil), takes solace in books – from Austen and Brontë to Dickens and Dostoyevsky and finds a kindred spirit in her gentle and downtrodden new teacher Miss Honey. While she relishes starting school, the cruelty she seeks to escape at home is heaped upon her and her classmates ten-fold by their larger than life, ex-Olympic hammer throwing head mistress Miss Trunchbull (played to utter perfection and with great relish by Elliot Harper).
With a two-hour 40-minute running time, jam packed with dialogue, tricky lyrics and hugely inventive choreography and scene changes, Matilda’s success relies in no small part to a well-drilled cast, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a better quality one than this. Scarlett Cecil, one of four Matildas is an absolute star, it must be remembered that this is a child taking on this role, a child who rarely leaves the stage during the entire production, a child who is delivering complex dialogue and lyrics that those treble her age would find challenging. The entire child cast are exceptional (the adults are pretty spectacular too) not a foot or word is out of place and the energy and gusto with which they attack every scene adds a youthful realism.
Both Kelly’s words (perfectly adapted from Roald Dahl’s original book) and Tim Minchin’s music and lyrics are clever, clever, clever and prove that there’s no need to dumb down to provide entertainment with mass appeal. As perfect as it’s possible to be, Matilda remains an outstanding musical in the British theatrical canon.
Runs until 27 April 2019 | Image: Contributed
This review was originally written for THE REVIEWS HUB