THEATRE ROYAL PLYMOUTH – 16 February 2019 and Tour
MATILDA – THE MUSICAL
RUNNING TIME 2 HOURS 30 MINUTES – 1 interval
Theatre Royal Plymouth Box Office – 01752 267222
REVIEW – CORMAC RICHARDS – 17 JANUARY 2018
The phenomenon that is Roald Dahl continues to make a huge impression on young and old alike. His books still sell phenomenally well and adaptations of his work continue to prolong his popularity across the world. When his book, Matilda, was first published in 1988, I was a bookseller and can testify to the huge sales it commanded. A film in 1996 followed and then the Royal Shakespeare Company unveiled a musical version in 2010. Since then it has become a mainstay in London and is now on its first UK national tour.
The pedigree for this adaptation is eclectic and innovative – Dennis Kelly writing the book and Tim Minchin the music and lyrics. In fact, it was originally conceived as a play with Matilda being a puppet!
The wonderful, ever-changing set, allows the audience to soak up the atmosphere of books and carefully crafted words before the action begins. It is brilliant work by Rob Howell, whose costumes are also perfectly realised. Transitions and clever effects are seamless. We are in a world of the imagination and as ever, Dahl populates it with extremes and grotesques who are mostly adults and where the children gain, eventually, the upper hand.
The band under Andrew Corcoran are excellent and never overwhelm the performers despite pumping the music out with gusto. Choreography is high quality and very original from Peter Darling and so precise. At times, I thought it was almost too precise and stifled a spontaneity in the performances, but that’s a small point. I have never seen a group of children so in-sync.
My expectations for the show were very high – somehow it has evaded me until now. I confess to being disappointed. The story holds up well, but there is something lacking in the show which is quite difficult to pinpoint. Unfortunately – with the exception of ‘When I Grow Up’ – the music doesn’t live with you. It entered one ear and out of the other, it didn’t linger. The lyrics are good, but there were some sound issues and I struggled to hear as many as I should have done. This may have been a technical and/or performance related issue and hopefully it can improve.
I also believe the show is too long, there are periods where the momentum dies down for just too long and it has to pick itself up and get going again.
There are some splendid set pieces. The high point is, indeed, the wonderful ‘When I Grow Up’ sequence with the children on swings. Their timing is spot-on and the song has an emotional punch that you have been longing for. It is perfect. The gymnastics scene is also so well done and demonstrates the incredible skills of the younger members of the cast. It’s a real treat.
Rebecca Thornhill and Sebastien Torkia grab their roles as Matilda’s awful parents with both hands and wring them for all they are worth – fabulously hammy performances complimented by a very funny turn by Matthew Caputo as the monosyllabic son, Michael. Matt Gillett adds to the outrageousness with his well-judged Rudolpho, Mrs Wormwood’s dance partner.
As the kindly teacher, Miss Honey, Carly Thoms avoids making her sickly-nice and has warmth and a wonderful singing voice. A super performance. There are lovely cameos from Michelle Chantelle Hopewell as the friendly librarian, Miss Phelps and Adam Vaughan as Sergei.
In the role of Chief Grotesque – the headteacher, Miss Trunchbull, Elliott Harper is quite brilliant. Tall, commanding, hunchbacked and copiously breasted, his interpretation of this hideous creation is wonderfully free and nuanced. This is a gift of a part for a man and this is a very fine performance indeed.
And so, to the stars of the show. The children. Obviously for a big professional production there are a number of ‘teams’ and I think we were treated to an excellent group. It’s difficult not to pick out Chantelle Tonolette as the cheeky, Lavender, with the biggest of big smiles and Harry Wilson as Bruce who coped with the cake-eating scene with true professionalism and fronted ‘Revolting Children’ number with aplomb – he was really excellent.
The part of ‘Matilda’ itself is huge and is hardly off stage and deals with a number of songs and a lot of dialogue. Poppy Jones coped admirably with all of this and received warm applause at the curtain. As I have mentioned already, this is my first experience of the show, and maybe I was imagining Matilda to be played as more of a feisty little girl which I just didn’t detect and I just wonder if that might have helped the show overall.
Matilda is an inventive and colourful show for everyone. I just felt it fell short on a number of levels which disappointed.
Adam Vaughan – Children’s Entertainer/Sergei
Peter Bindloss – Doctor
Rebecca Thornhill – Mrs Wormwood
Sebastien Torkia – Mr Wormwood
Matt Gillett – Rudolpho
Matthew Caputo – Michael Wormwood
Michelle Chantelle Hopewell – Mrs Phelps
Carly Thoms – Miss Honey
Emily Bull – The Acrobat
Steffan Lloyd-Evans – The Escapologist
Elliott Harper – Miss Trunchbull
Ensemble – Anu Ogunmefun, Richard Astbury, Oliver Bingham, Samara Castello, Joe Atkinson, Nina Bell, Sam Lathwood, Charlie Martin, Tom Mather, Dawn Williams
Resident Director – Phil Bartlett
Musical Director – Andrew Corcoran
Set & Costume Design – Rob Howell
Choreography – Peter Darling
Book – Dennis Kelly
Music & Lyrics – Tim Minchin