Cambridge Theatre, London
The set is stunning. You’re greeted as you take your seat with a cavalcade of letters all making up words you’ll spend possibly too much of your night working out. On occasion, it will obscure your view, but as there’s so much to look at, that matters little. It sets a high expectation of the kind of entertainment we can expect, and that Matilda delivers in spades.
The joy of this play is not just that it celebrates cleverness, not just that it delights in naughtiness, but that it sees each as the essence of the other. All the joy in life is in bringing both together.
The music and lyrics could only – therefore – be written by modern-day Loki Tim Minchin. His wordplay pleases the parents and children alike. This is definitely a play for children. The ones I was sat with delighted in the fun and enjoyed being genuinely frightened of Chokey (which rightly is never shown – what could be more frightening than a child’s imagination?). But us grown-ups enjoyed it too – allowing our own sense of adolescent fun to break through.
Sara Munday as Matilda is astonishingly good. She carries the whole show and does so with the aplomb of an actress with 20 years stage experience and the mischief of a child of exactly the right age.
There were a couple of issues I had with the original story that are emphasised seeing it on stage. The class politics are decidedly dodgy having Matilda sound so middle class next to her spiv parents. And there are real problems with the implication that masculine women are by nature mean and nasty that play out throughout the Miss Trunchbull character’s arc.
Played well for laughs by David Shannon, there are, however, several moments where the sexuality of this unattractive woman is presented to us as a sign of her wicked intent, as he writhes in pleasure at her delight in cruelty – something we are clearly meant to see as hilariously gross.
I would also warn that those with epilepsy might have trouble with some of the lighting effects. Those are grown up concerns that definitely washed over the heads of the charmed children. Overall this was a joyride – as richly full as a huge slice of chocolate cake; as tightly staged as Rodolpho’s (Callum Train) marvellously shaken tailfeather; as clever in its naughtiness, as it was naughty in its cleverness.
Magnificent family fun to get you away from the telly, even if you still enjoy singing about it.