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Review: Matilda The Musical

Bag your ticket for this wonderfully sharp-witted RSC musical at Birmingham Hippodrome while it tours the UK.

Miracle, the opening song, in Matilda The Musical always cracks me up. It’s not very often in a family-family musical you hear the immortal lines:

” I should be dancing the tarantella –

…Not dressed in hospital cotton,

With a smarting front bottom.”

Lyricist Tim Minchin’s razor-sharp take on ballroom dancing Mrs Wormwood after she’s just discovered she’s pregnant and then given birth, has almost every woman who’s been there literally in stitches (*sorry).

Matilda asks her mum Mrs Wormwood – played by Rebecca Thornhill – if she’d like to hear a story. “Don’t be disgusting!” she says.

This catchy little number is a very funny parody of modern parenting, and those parents who think their child can’t do any wrong. In complete contrast, the brash and deliciously nasty Mr and Mrs Wormwood – a brilliant comedy double-act by Rebecca Thornhill and Sebastien Torkia – regard their daughter Matilda as a “jumped-up little germ.”

Your sympathy immediately goes out to Matilda when she innocently pipes up: “My mum says I’m a good excuse for population control; Dad says I should shut my cakehole”.

That’s what’s so gleefully clever about this sharp-witted and slickly choreographed production – it’s joke a minute yet ultimately touching.

Writer Dennis Kelly and composer / lyricist Tim Minchin go to top of the class with their seven-years in the making adaptation of Roald Dahl’s anarchic story of a resourceful, lonely schoolgirl with super powers.

Craig Els reprises his excellent critically-acclaimed drag performance of sadistic hammer-throwing head teacher Miss Trunchbull, which he played for three years in the West End. There’s great physical humour in Miss Trunchbull’s appearance and some one-liners are pure comedy gold. “Don’t just stand there like a wet tissue!” is a particular favourite of mine (spoken to Miss Honey as she nervously plucks up the courage to knock on her office door). The ‘Phy-Ed’ scene is a memorable high-point.

Crunchem Hall’s school motto: “children are maggots”.

I’ve been lucky enough to see the RSC’s Matilda the Musical twice before – when it first opened in Stratford-upon-Avon in 2010, and secondly, just after it transferred to the West End. Incredibly, the show has since opened in New York, Australia, New Zealand and this September, debuts in Seoul, South Korea.

Of the original cast Bertie Carvel (Miss Trunchbull) has since made his name in ITV’s Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell and in BBC 1’s Dr Foster as Suranne Jones’ unfaithful husband Simon husband. Paul Kaye (Mr Wormwood) received critical acclaim in the BBC’s BAFTA-winning Rochdale mini-series, Three Girls; while Kerry Ingram, one of the Matilda’s, played Shireen Baratheon in Game of Thrones.

Librarian Mrs Phelps – Michelle Chantelle Hopewell

Fortunately, Matilda has librarian Mrs Phelps (Michelle Chantelle Hopewell) and class teacher Miss Honey (Carly Thoms), on her side. In fact, Miss Honey can’t believe her luck – I mean, how many five-year-olds have read Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment –  in Russian?

It was great to see Telly – TV guzzling Mr Wormwood’s hilarious homage to the box – included in this touring production, and with added audience participation. It wasn’t in the West End version I saw.

“All I know I learned from telly, This big beautiful box of facts!” – Mr Wormwood, played by Sebastien Torkia

So much rests on the young female protagonist, and Lara Cohen’s performance was extraordinary: deft and sensitive. Matilda’s self-reliant DIY ethos is deeply ingrained – “nobody but me is going to change my story” – although telekinetic powers do help.

Lara Cohen as Matilda

Matilda’s a feel-good family-orientated musical adaptation packed with melodic, infectious songs – notably Miracle, Naughty, When I Grow up and Revolting Children – you’ll be humming them for days after! It deserves all 85 and counting of its international awards. The Birmingham audience agreed. Everyone was on their feet for a final standing ovation.

Matilda the Musical runs at Birmingham Hippodrome until September 8, before moving on to Manchester Palace Theatre, birminghamhippodrome

For the UK & Ireland Tour schedule which ends in August 2019 see here.

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