If you’re going to take a classic of children’s literature and turn it into a musical, you better make sure you do a good job. Matilda by Roald Dahl – one of the author’s later and darker works – comfortably fits into the category of a children’s classic that is well-loved all over the world. So the stakes were high for the Royal Shakespeare Company when they took on this commission. Anything sub-par would surely have a legion of die-hard Dahl fans crying foul.
Thankfully this production is anything but sub-par – as testified by the eight million people who have flocked to see the show since it opened in 2010 and the 85 international awards it has garnered in that time. The gorgeous stage design, with books framing the stage – hints at the ambitious and triumphant production that will dazzle the captive audience over the course of more than two hours.
For those not familiar with the story, Matilda is about a prodigiously talented and intelligent young girl whose life is blighted by neglectful and cruel parents and a headmistress from hell aptly named Miss Trunchbull. To escape the misery of her life, Matilda finds solace in her love of literature and then in the compassionate nature of her class teacher, Miss Honey. Matilda is not just extremely intelligent however but develops telekinetic powers when angry; a supernatural skill that comes in handy during key moments. Like many of Dahl’s works, Matilda appeals to adults as well as children. This was reflected in the wide range of ages found in the full to the brim Wales Millennium Centre.
Thanks to the song writing talents of comedian Tim Minchin, the songs are much funnier than you would find in your average musical. A bellyaching bout of laughter is never far away thanks to Minchin’s comedic couplets. Of all the musical numbers in the show – and there is not a single duff one – When I Grow Up is perhaps the stand out.
The cast of children are a revelation. Their acting ability, singing talents and comic timing belie their young ages. The brightest star among these young performers is Scarlett Cecil in the role of Matilda. She may be small in stature but her presence fills the stage whenever she is on it. Her voice is also powerful enough to fill the vast and magnificent auditorium of the WMC. Scarlett is a real talent to watch out for in the future.
Craige Els in the role of Miss Trunchbull comes closest to stealing the show from Scarlett. He manages to exude enough menace to stay true to the dark origins of the source material without losing the ability to raise a guffaw in the crowd. His swinging of the Amanda Thripp character by the pig tails is a case in point; it is simultaneously horrifying and hilarious and is one of the marvels of the show. The superb voice of Carly Thoms, who plays Miss Honey, also deserves a mention.
Matilda is an uplifting triumph from start to finish and it deserves all the plaudits that will no doubt follow from this run in Wales.
- Matilda will be at the WMC until January 12th 2019.