Touring – reviewed at Bristol Hippodrome
Guest reviewer: Roni Hughes
Whether you yourself were obsessed with books as a child, or if you were just more of a movie person, I can guarantee that you will know something of Matilda Wormwood.
Originally a children’s book written by Roald Dahl and released in 1988, Matilda was later adapted into a blockbuster film starring Mara Wilson and Danny DeVito, becoming a firm favourite of young and old alike. Now the well known tale is back in a musical stage adaption by Dennis Kelly, with music and lyrics from Tim Minchin.
Although currently on its first UK tour, the show has been a resident in London’s West End since 2011, and having had the pleasure of seeing it there multiple times, I was intrigued to see how seamlessly such a fast paced and well staged show would transfer to a smaller stage. For many parents unable to travel to London, this is their opportunity to take children to the show for the first time, and it’s impossible not to get swept up in the excitement upon arriving at the theatre.
Right from the off, it’s clear that the transfer has taken nothing away from the production value. Even on a smaller stage, the intricacies of the sets to include many books and building block letters are still mind blowing. There is so much to look at, yet none of it distracts from the main action. A special shout out must go to the cleverly written and performed ‘School Song’, in which the older children of Trunchem Hall teach the new starters their ABCs through the menacing school gates. Hats off to Matt Towell and Ben Davies for continuing to make this as dynamic and tricky as it should be.
Outside of the staging, there are a few standout members of the cast without whom the show would fall flat. Our Matilda for the night, Olivia Juno Cleverley, has the little girl’s feisty nature down to a T. She has to ability to have us laughing along with her karate chopping one minute, and the next be tugging on our heart strings in softer moments where we’re confronted with just how awfully the adults in her life treat Matilda.
At her young age, this is no mean feat, and I’m sure there are bright things to come for her. Special mention also to Charlie Garton who played cake loving Bruce Bogtrotter. His fabulous dance moves in Revolting Children have the audience rolling in the aisles, and he has energy and stage presence in spades.
This is not forgetting the adult cast members, who do well in being the literal embodiment of their characters. Carly Thoms’ Miss Honey is perfectly meek and mild, and her rendition of My House is suitably gut-wrenching. It’s a refreshing change to have one adult in Matilda’s story for whom you root just as much as title character, and Thoms allows us to sympathise completely with this teacher with a heart of gold.
We also cannot overlook Elliot Harper, who plays the formidable Agatha Trunchbull. Harper succeeds brilliantly in providing us with the laughs throughout the entire show, right down to one final cry of ‘Maggots!’ during the last reprise. He is the fourth Trunchbull I’ve been able to watch, and he certainly does not disappoint.
One thing I must mention that took away slightly from the overall production was the sound mixing. I’m unsure on whether it was simply down to the mics or the theatre layout, but the music seemed to overpower the actors, and particularly in chorus songs, the clarity needed to hear all the lyrics was missing. The show in general was not quite as polished as you would expect for a show that’s been on tour for 14 months already, which was most obvious in some of the dance sequences. However, despite this the show was still more than enjoyable, and this may just be down to adjusting to the recent move to the Hippodrome.
This show is wonderful for children from ages 4-104 and would certainly make for a fantastic family night now. There are plenty of age appropriate gags for all generations, and there’s a great balance of poignant moments mixed in with fun and hilarity. I would definitely recommend being a little bit ‘naughty’ and treating yourself to a ticket!
Matilda runs at the Bristol Hippodrome until 8th June before continuing its tour.
photo credit: Manuel Harlan