I doubt there is a person reading this who isn’t already familiar with Roald Dahl’s classic story ‘Matilda’; A story of a little girl with an extraordinary brain from a rather, shall we say, colourful family.
Colour, incidentally, is what I’m first struck by upon entering the auditorium – so vibrant. This combined with the bombardment of words, letters and shapes creates the feeling of having stepped straight into a child’s imagination. Once again Rob Howell’s design takes my breath away, not just for its aesthetic beauty but for the thorough theme exploration. You may have seen pictures of the set but they do not do justice to the visual thrill of actually seeing it for yourself!
Making up the proscenium arch and borders are letters on scrabble blocks put together to create various words. These words initially seem quite random but turn out to have profound significance to the show. Words such as dynamite, scarf and acrobats – confusing at first but as Matilda relays the escapologist’s story you realise the importance behind them. It’s quite fun too, before the show and during the interval, seeing what words you can pick out.
The show begins on a burst of energy that continues to pulse from start to finish and never once wavers – not just from the children but from the adult performers too as though they are bouncing off the natural youthful liveliness these kids bring to the production.
The kids really are the stars of the show. That is unquestionable; so much talent and confidence with each and every one.
I saw Hayley Canham as Matilda and I’m astounded at the ability of someone so young to be able to carry the whole show while portraying such a complex character and do it all with unrelenting gusto. Her acting is so concentrated and intense that I’m completely drawn into her complicated world. She creates a character as believably as any professional 3 times her age. Here’s a youtube clip I found of her singing at a GB cultural event:-
Now, when I saw Steve Furst’s name attached to this production I did that internal sigh that I always do when I see names from the telly and expect to have to put up with a poor performance for the sake of bums on seats. BUT when I’m wrong, then I say I’m wrong and I was wrong about you (gold star to whoever can name the musical reference). I was actually so impressed with his Mr Wormwood, all the more so for it being completely unexpected. In his garishly loud green costume he portrays a character to match – a frenetic, slimy geezer of the delboy variety. He has a great stage presence and I’m so won over, I actually can’t imagine anyone else playing this role now. I urge you to see it while he’s still there.
Everything about the Wormwoods is gaudy and LOUD. Even down to the set for their house with its bright orange chairs and green walls; a house completely in tune with its occupants.Well, all the occupants bar one. That is, of course, Matilda. But her bedroom, her refuge, has soft blue walls to match her character – her kind soul but also her misery. I find the use of cold, steel blue lighting also an effective contrast to the vivid colours of the rest of the show, used for the subdued or sinister moments. It really puts an emphasis on the disturbing side of her situation.
This being the first time I’ve seen Matilda, I can’t compare David Leonard’s performance as Miss Trunchbull to Bertie Carvel’s and I think, actually, this is a good thing for I can judge without bias. Having created the role and from the praise that surrounds Mr Carvel, it seems to me like he gave a pretty unbeatable performance and this must’ve been a pretty daunting takeover.
David Leonard steps up to the mark, though, and inhabits Miss Trunchbull in all her repulsiveness. You can’t help but have a negative physical reaction to this character – the urge to shrink away, hide and possibly vomit. Since Matilda is all about words, the one’s that spring to mind for Miss Trunchbull are vile, repellent, intimidating, terrifying (I was in an aisle seat and every time Miss Trunchball walked past me I did feel very... little ... and quite afraid of getting sent to the chokey) another word I'd associate with her is brown. Brown because everything about her is brown - her office, her clothes and her attitude.
I do, however, feel like Mr Leonard is still getting to know the character and that he hasn’t quite settled into the rhythm yet. Oh, and, if you’re sitting in the first few rows take an umbrella... as an acTOR, he spray spits.... a lot (actually this really suits the character. Makes her that little bit more vile).
Hayley Flaherty as Miss Honey conveys her kind but nervous, shrinking violet character wonderfully and Annette McLaughlin bellows out Mrs Wormwood’s shallow & uncaring nature with fervour.
I think it’s also important to mention two others with smaller roles - Mark Goldthorp who plays the doctor/escapologist (as well as performing many ensemble numbers) and really shines in all these different guises and Melanie La Barrie as Mrs Phelps who you can’t help but warm to.
This show is made up of wonderful scenes that you will take away with you and remember. Many of them include magical moments created by Paul Kieve that will really make you gasp – it’s no small feat to twirl a girl around by the pig tails, throw her out into the audience and have her drop in the middle of the aisle!
The scene that resonates most with myself, and I think that nearly all adults would agree, comes right after the interval –a playground scene where the children glide serenely out into the audience on swings, imagining what they can and will do when they grow up. It made me feel a little choked up at the innocent ideals we lose when we actually are grown up and how we realise we still know nothing.
“When I grow up/ I will be smart enough to answer all/ The questions that you need to know/ The answers to before you’re grown up”
Having since read the programme thoroughly which includes an interview with Tim Minchin (who wrote the music and lyrics ... though I’m sure you already know that) I’ve discovered that my reaction to that song was exactly what he intended... the clever man.
I think there’s little doubt that Matilda will be one of those long running shows (though nothing is certain these days) but don’t let that make you complacent – go see it soon while this brilliant cast are performing... you can always go again and again afterwards. I know I will be.
Matilda is currently running at the Cambridge Theatre. For more information and to book tickets, please go to www.matildathemusical.com/