With the recent success of the new work Morte D'Arthur, the RSC seems to be on track for another winner with its new musical adaptation of Matilda, and it is just that: a winner. Directed by Matthew Warchus, with book by Dennis Kelly and music and lyrics by Tim Minchin, Matilda, a Musical is a delight for children and adults alike.
Roald Dahl's Matilda is a classic, capturing the joys and the hardships of childhood. Matilda lives with her foolish, ignorant parents, and at school encounters her cruel headteacher. But with her miraculous mind, her many books, and the lovely Miss Honey at her side, Matilda succeeds in defeating the intimidating adults around her.
The wonders of childhood and its darker side successfully translate from Dahl's novel to Kelly's book. The addition of Miss Honey's back-story is initially a little confusing, but it becomes a kind of doubling of Matilda's own childhood and serves to strengthen the bond between child and teacher. Minchin's lyrics and music work beautifully alongside Kelly's text. The songs capture the nature of each character; 'Naughty' reveals Matilda's vivaciousness and her wisdom. All are entertaining, with many thought provoking and moving.
Rob Howell's set design is in the style of Quentin Blake's original drawings. Letters and books adorn the stage reminding us of the wonders of literature. (It is a lovely touch having letters and blackboards displayed throughout the theatre entrance and foyer). Lighting is used to great effect, especially as it portrays the nightmare of choking.
Blake's drawings are brought to life by wonderful costumes, hair and make-up. Trunchbull's appearance is just what we might imagine, blotchy red eyes and thick, chunky belt, and so is that of the Wormwoods in their gaudy, loud outfits.
At the heart of the show is Adrianna Bertola's Matilda (also played by Josie Griffiths and Kerry Ingram). She brilliantly portrays both Matilda's innocence and insightfulness as we see in her early bedroom scene. We are all drawn to Bertola's Matilda; she holds her own on stage when performing alone and when performing with the adults, quite remarkable for one so young. She is well supported by a delightful cast of children who all give good performances. Together they exude the energy and vibrancy of childhood.
Lauren Ward is the caring, patient Miss Honey, who forms a strong relationship with Bertola's Matilda. This relationship is beautifully portrayed in the scene at Miss Honey's house. Ward's Miss Honey and her pupil contrast significantly to the Wormwoods, played by Josie Walker and Paul Kaye who capture the parents' foolish and grotesque nature. Bertie Carvel's man-in-drag Miss Trunchbull is both monstrous and funny, drawing many laughs from the audience. This casting emphasises the masculine nature of Trunchbull, whilst Carvel also reveals a slight vulnerability to the character.
With the production still previewing there are a few timing and technical glitches here and there – a clash of swings, props hitting the stage set and rebounding onto the stage, a few missed out words – but this is to take very little from an already excellent production which can only grow from here. Warchus, Kelly and Minchin present us with a heart-warming and laughter-filled show, reminding us of the Dahl story we all know and love. We are absorbed into that little girl's world of stories, magic and wonder. Matilda, A Musical is a lively, moving – yes, there may be a few tears – and thoroughly enjoyable Christmas show for everyone.
Matilda, A Musical Photography by Manuel Harlan