Touring – reviewed at the Milton Keynes Theatre
Children are maggots, worms, vipers and disgusting little blisters. Matilda The Musical, the multi-award-winning stage adaptation of Roald Dahl’s magical book, opened at Milton Keynes Theatre and captured our hearts. This prodigious touring production, just at the start of a mammoth UK tour, is a gift of a show. Written by Dennis Kelly and with music and lyrics by Tim Minchin, Matilda is a thrilling ride through the childhood of a very special little five-year-old.
What has made this Royal Shakespeare Company production so successful – it is still playing in the West End after eight years, has toured the globe and won 85 international awards – is arguably its familiarity. Since first being published in 1988, Matilda has been a favourite with children and adults alike. Its transformation from book to stage has been remarkable and the touring production, starring the West End show’s monstrous Miss Trunchbull, Craige Els, is spectacular.
Rob Howell’s magnificent sets provide a wondrous backdrop for this beautifully acted ensemble piece. It’s refreshing to see such a large juvenile cast that all look so natural and at home on stage rather than over-egging their performances like stage school brats. Elliot Stiff, playing glutton Bruce Bogtrotter, has a sensational singing voice and rightly gets a moment to shine in the finale. Earlier, the poor boy faces the ordeal of wading through an 18-inch chocolate cake (well, someone has to do it) and he carries out the task with aplomb and well-rehearsed sleight-of-hand.
Matilda is a precocious little girl whose ghastly parents want nothing to do with her. Her dodgy used car salesman father, Teddy Boy in tartan Harry Wormwood (Sebastien Torkia, a spectacularly sleazy spiv), doesn’t understand her obsession with books.
“Another flaming book! What’s wrong with the telly?” he asks her.
And her glamorous mother, Zinnia (West End star Rebecca Thornhill), spends her time with dance partner Rudolpho, perfecting their moves.
So the youngster takes herself off to the local library where she entertains the librarian, Mrs Phelps (Michelle Chantelle Hopewell) with astonishing stories.
Her latest, told in episodes throughout the musical, features a moving story of an escapologist and his beautiful acrobat wife, who are desperate to have a baby.
But poor Matilda is wrenched away from the warmth of the library to be sent to school where the hideous Agatha Trunchbull rules with a rod of iron.
Will she survive to tell Mrs Phelps the end of the tale? And will the school’s only humane teacher, the delectable Miss Honey (Carly Thomas), help Matilda survive the torture?
Els, as former Olympic hammer thrower turned head teacher, Agatha Trunchbull, is on top form, terrorising the kids and intimidating the adults.
She’s a grotesque, nightmare creation and a part he has made his own.
One of the big set pieces is a well-choreographed physical education lesson, taken by Miss Trunchbull and ends with her spectacularly leaping over a vaulting horse and somersaulting gracefully onto a mat. No mean feat when you’re her size.
There are one or two issues which, I’m sure will be ironed out during the run. At last night’s opening those sitting on the righthand side of the auditorium suffered terrible sight lines, missing key moments because the set obscured vision.
And there were times when it was difficult to understand its star, little Northamptonshire lass Poppy Jones, – she’s one of four Matildas in the show – which could be a sound fault.
But there were times when Poppy looked a little overwhelmed and her diction suffered, with some speeches lacking clarity.
Nothing can detract from the stunning visual spectacle of this show. Kids swing out into the audience, magical special effects add wonder and Roald Dahl’s timeless story entrances with its universal appeal.
Not one to miss.
Matilda The Musical plays at Milton Keynes Theatre until June 30.
Buy Matilda The Musical theatre tickets from one of our recommended theatre ticket websites.
Birmingham Hippodrome, July 3 – Sept 8
Manchester Palace Theatre, Sept 18 – November 24
Wales Millennium Centre, Dec 4 – January 12
Theatre Royal Plymouth, January 15 – February 16
Alhambra Theatre, February 19 – March 23
Edinburgh Playhouse, April 2 – 27
Bristol Hippodrome, May 7 – June 8
Mayflower Theatre, Southampton, June 11 – July 6
Theatre Royal, Norwich, July 16 – August 17.
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