I have to admit, I didn’t know anything about the story. The only Roald Dhal books that I have read are ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ and ‘Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator’ (I loved the name Vermicious Knid when I was a kid, I mean it’s just fabulous isn’t it?). Of course I’ve seen the Gene Wilder film version of ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ numerous times, I am re-entranced each time it is repeated on TV. Somehow the BFG, James and the Giant Peach etc managed to pass me by. So when I heard that my mother in law was treating the family to a day out a children’s musical I was not as thrilled as I might have been. Don’t get me wrong, I love the theatre and I have been visiting the West End, and, in particular using what used to be called the Half Price Ticket Booth in Leicester (or Lie-chester as some of our American friends call it...) Square, or TKTS as it is now called for many years. I’ve been lucky enough to have seen fantastic shows from opera to drama and some amazing actors including Judi Dench and Paul Schofield. You cannot beat London when it comes to the quality of the shows, though I have to say musicals have certainly become more prevalent over recent years (something to do with some television programs methinks). It is getting more difficult to find a decent drama to see now that the RSC is no longer based at the Barbican. Fortunately many of the recent musicals have been “Wicked!”.
It is actually the RSC who is one of the producers of Matilda. Anyone who was in London today will know that it was quite warm so a theatre is not necessarily the first place you would wish to be. Fortunately the Cambridge Theatre is air-conditioned so once you made it through the sauna that is the foyer it was relatively cool. We were fortunate enough to be in row G of the stalls so had an excellent view of the stage. It was a matinee performance and there were as many children in the audience as there were adults. The set was festooned with what appeared to be colourful Scrabble tiles and children’s building blocks with the word Matilda spelt out in brightly coloured tiles suspended over the stage. On the stage itself was a library piled high with books. It all looked quite magical. Suddenly the orchestra struck up and a table appeared on the stage, slowly moving towards the audience with a birthday cake on it. From beneath the table a group of obnoxious spoilt brats appeared and burst into the opening number, ‘My Mummy says I'm a miracle!’. A couple of overweening parents of a particularly pugnacious boy sing:
‘Have you seen his school report?
He got a 'C' on his report!
We'll have to change his school.'
That teacher's clearly falling short.’
Clearly these parents need a reality check! Not long after this Matilda appears, the unwanted result of a very unexpected pregnancy – she sings:
‘My mummy says I'm a lousy little worm.
My daddy says I'm a bore.
My mummy says I'm a jumped-up little germ,
That kids like me should be against the law.
My daddy says I should learn to shut my pie hole.
No one likes a smart-mouthed girl like me.
Mum says I'm a good case for population control.
Dad says I should watch more TV.’
This sets the scene for the story, overindulged, smug spoilt brats on the one hand and the unloved and unwanted Matilda who won’t be kept down, despite her parents and her child-tossing head mistress’ best efforts! The song “Naughty” sums up her attitude very well – sometimes you just have to be naughty!
I won’t tell you anymore of the story, hopefully you get the idea. It was at times hilarious, scary, sad and magical. Most of the songs were catchy (one I found a bit slow) and the lyrics amusing. The lyricist is by Tim Minchin, an Australian musician and comedian. He has managed to capture the darkness of Roald Dahl’s story and turn it into a black comedy that doesn’t sink into maudlinism.
The acting in was first class. We were particularly impressed by Isobelle Molloy who played Matilda, an impressive feat to spend so much time on stage (a lot of it alone) singing beautifully and acting convincingly and energetically. The other children also played their parts well, all of them taking a well deserved star turn.
One of stars of the show, without a doubt, was the psychotic and neurotic Miss Trunchball, played by Bertie Cavell in drag. From the moment he appeared he had us laughing, scared, shocked and awed.
My favourite part was when the children sang ‘When I Grow Up’, flying through the air towards the audience in tandem on rope swings, a truly magical moment!
We all agreed at the end of the show that it had been thoroughly enjoyable though a little bit scary and sad too. We bumped into the proud father of Robyn Ashwood who had played Lavender, Matilda’s self appointed best friend, on our way back to the train – from the huge smile on her face you could tell that she had really enjoyed giving her performance and I have to say that we enjoyed watching it! Highly recommended, it’s not just for kids!