Monday, 30 January 2012

Matilda the Musical - review

Written by: Lozmonster (@LozStreet1)

Where Woz Loz?
Cambridge Theatre, London
Woz Loz Loving it? 

Well, through the medium of the program, the folks at Matilda have called me a 'stinky worm' just for being born in April, but I figured they must mean it in a nice way, because if they didn't love me they wouldn't have given me a such a good evening.

In 1996, age 5, my mum took my 3-year-old sister and I to see the motion picture of Roald Dahl's Matilda when it opened at the cinema. I can't remember the event beyond the brightly coloured credits, but mum recalls it very clearly. She was close to taking us home mid way through the film. We were both in tears and cowering behind the seats in pure terror at the Trunchbull, Matilda's cruel and villainous headmistress. Mum tells me how every kid in the cinema cheered, screamed, threw sweets and jumped on the seats (me included) as the Trunchbull was defeated, driven out of the school and humiliated at the end. 

I like to think of this as my first cathartic experience. Mum's recollection of our fear is a great story from my childhood, and an important one for me. So my bar was set pretty high as Mum and I - 16 years later - arrived in Covent Garden for Matilda the Musical. 

First off - the set is out of this world. Good job Bec Chippendale! The pros arch is covered in different, scrabble-like tiles, which spell out lots of words if you look hard enough. I found 'phenomenon' which must be worth a few points. Walls built from different tile formations appear, move, switch and interlock seamlessly. Rare as it may be for a theatre review, the SM deserves a shout out: Pandora Elrington, it was truly sublime.

My Matilda was Kerry Ingram, and what a Matilda she is: every bit as bright and tenacious as the part demands, and a great voice. Ellie Simons as Lavander (“MATILDA’S BEST FRIEND!!”) is also fantastic, and greatly impressed me with her grown-up comic timing. Zachary Harris is a Bruce Bogtrotter with hidden talents, and Ted Wilson is the most adorable thing I’ve ever seen. This child ensemble is so impressive because every one of them is on point and they nail every move together – including Tiny Ted and Kerry Ingram. They fit faultlessly and frequently with the adult ensemble, and there really is no void between the two.

Our first encounter with the Trunchbull, much anticipated by this point, leaves me a little concerned. It turns out to be a comic role...she is a bit bonkers and deluded, but not at all the monster of my childhood experience. I laughed as much as everyone else, but must confess to some initial disappointment. HOWEVER, the tone of the show (manipulated and controlled expertly by Kerry Ingram) takes a darker turn in the second half. The atmosphere around the Trunchbull, portrayed by Bertie Carvel (yes, he’s a guy, and the casting was 100% correct) shifts, and I experience the feeling and the flicker of fear I was looking for, also noting the increased nervousness of the little girl behind me.  We need to hate the Trunchbull, or we can’t share in the celebrations at her downfall. The fear is important, I’m not just being sadistic.

Tim Minchin’s music has his name all over it. I would not be surprised if he had dreamed up the line “sometimes you have to be a little bit naughty” as a personal statement years ago. He and his music match the Roald Dahl style perfectly, and enhance it to a highly theatrical level.

The focus in Matilda the Musical is not on the development of Matilda’s magic powers. In fact, if you didn’t know already that that’s what happens you might miss it all together. The show focuses instead on stories, their importance and the importance of telling them. That is essentially what this musical is and does: it is a beautifully told story. And it really does have everything! Funny bits, sad bits, lazers, projection, a giant cake, bits spoken in Russian, a ukulele, lots of wigs, a trampoline and scooters.

Matilda is a wonderful evening of regression into the prepubescent, a huge technical achievement with an inspiring and original score and a sensational cast. You really would be a smelly, warty, revolting maggot to miss it!

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