Tim Minchin‘s stage adaptation of Matilda – Roald Dahl‘s much-loved tale of a girl who loved to read – is a flamboyant, quirky and energetic musical with an incredible cast of children and a joyously garish stage.
The child ensemble are explosively talented and fill the stage with energy, charisma and character. Despite complex, precise choreography, scene changes and various songs, they not only perform but rise to the roles they have been given, making them their own. Each and every movement and piece of dialogue is laced with a unique personality that heightens the comedy and brings the show to life, which is incredibly impressive given their young age. The two frontrunners are Scarlett Cecil as Matilda and Toby Mocrei as Bruce, who are brilliant – delivering stunning vocal performances and consistently funny and believable acting. Another standout performer is Lily Van Veen, whose Lavender captures the audience with her comedic and entertaining performance.
The cast truly shine during songs including “Revolting Children” and “When I Grow Up”, which are two beautifully performed numbers. Both the choreography and vocals blend to create sleek and impressive scenes paired with innovative staging that includes swings and rotating, light up school desks.
This tough young cast meet their match in Elliot Harper as Miss Trunchbull, who is the most notable performer in the adult cast. He is imposing and intimidating yet equally hilarious, delivering pitch-perfect comedic one liners without veering into caricature. Harper gives every line the same level of intensity and value, and it pays off in huge laughs from the audience. It is a truly great portrayal of the larger-than-life villain Dahl created.
The dark comedy and twisted satire of the late British author is captured in this musical, with a strong balance between slapstick, gross-out comedy for the kids and intelligent, tongue-in-cheek quips for adults. However, the s story itself is not the most memorable or engaging of the musical genre; in fact, a few of the songs and much of the plot is forgettable. This is particularly clear in the subplot of The Escapologist (Steffan Lloyd-Evans) and The Acrobat (Emily Bull). Although Matilda is expertly and fascinatingly performed by Cecil, the story itself is too long and convoluted to hold the younger audiences attention and too contrived and repetitive to interest the adults.
Still, there are highlights. One scene featuring the children and Miss Trunchbull during a deranged PE lesson is a fantastic potion of physical comedy and action. Moments like this add a dimension of playfulness as well as showing off Rob Howell‘s impressive staging. However, in cases like The Acrobat and her story, too much precedence is given to minor characters, leaving the impression that time could have been used more effectively.
The cast of Matilda – particularly the child ensemble – is what makes the show brilliant. The children perform with endless talent and drive, carrying a somewhat stagnant plot on their shoulders while hitting every note and dance move perfectly – maintaining a sense of cheeky childish glee throughout. It’s just a shame that the clunky storytelling stops Matilda from truly being unforgettable.