Matilda The Musical
Royal Shakespeare Company
Theatre Royal Plymouth
Since its première in Stratford-Upon-Avon as a Christmas offering in 2010, the RSC’s Matilda has been a box office success in the West End and is now in its first UK tour. With the dream team of acclaimed playwright Dennis Kelly recrafting Roald Dahl’s pointed children’s story and maverick Tim Minchin tasked with words and lyrics, it is perhaps hardly surprising that sell-out trend continues.
Matilda has something for everyone: nastiness and hilarity, hope and despair, song and dance, Russian mafia and Olympic prowess, slapstick and pain, and the power of imagination… plus a touch of telekinesis.
Kids may be mummy’s little soldier, daddy’s princess or—as in the case of Matilda—the family’s jumped-up germ, but life isn’t always going to be straightforward as apron strings are severed and the five-year-olds are foisted into the real world of playground bullies, chokey and the terrible Miss Trunchbull.
Matilda was clearly a mistake: resented as pink fishnet-stockinged diva mum (Rebecca Thornhill) has to miss the Latin dance championships with slurky Rudolpho (Matt Gillett) to give birth while wheeling-and-dealing dad (Sebastian Torkia) has all he needs in dim-witted slobbish son Michael (Matthew Caputo). Bookworm Matilda seems weird to the awful family who worship TV, looks and possessions and her humiliation is palpable. In typical Dahl style, the nastiness is never sugar-coated nor her rejection tempered or resolved.
Escaping to the sanctuary of the library, where she consumes the classics voraciously, Matilda amuses Mrs Phelps (Michelle Chantelle Hopewell) with poignant imaginative stories which turn out to be all too real as the shed-dwelling, timid Miss Honey (Carly Thoms) evidences.
Sent to school, where to headteacher Miss Trunchbull (Elliot Harper) children are maggots, needing much phys ed and a bi-daily round of mortification and ever-more creative punishments (including eating vast chocolate cakes, being launched by the pigtails into the playground and the terrifying chokey), Matilda uses all her precocious knowledge to outwit the enemy.
Bullies are stymied, Miss Trunchbull outmanoeuvred—admittedly with the help of a useful moment of telekinesis during a breath-holding moment where one really could hear a fly burp—historical wrongs righted and her decision to have learned Russian to better appreciate Dostoevsky’s novels proves a saving grace for her thieving father.
But it is the children who steal the show. Played by four girls on different nights, Poppy Jones was in the limelight on press night. An impressive performance marred only by some sound issues which blurred her words at times while Chantelle Tonolete is enchanting as Lavender leading the eight classmates in rebellion—all with a resounding sense of fun, fab dancing, and great acrobatics and vocals, particularly in "The Smell Of Rebellion" and "Revolting Children".
Something for all the family.
Reviewer: Karen Bussell