Anyone who thinks that Matilda the Musical is just for kids is in for a big surprise. What Dennis Kelly and Tim Minchin have successfully accomplished through clever scripting and playful tunes is a performance both adults and children will relate to, and feel has been written specifically for them.
Witty lyrics are carried by sweeping melodies, which are in turn delivered by engaging and incredibly funny characters. Each line is delivered with razor sharp wit, thus avoiding the risk of a descent into schmaltz at any point.
From the first number ‘Miracle’, an ode to the modern notion of every child being special in their own way: ‘It seems that there are millions of these one in a million these days’ – the audience are given a taste of the cheeky narrative style to come.
As the song finishes, we are introduced to Matilda, the antithesis of a spoilt brat – instead of having doting parents who fawn over her, she is raised by a pair of ridiculous oafs who think it’s better to be ‘Loud’ (another great number) and watch television than read books and tell stories.
Matilda has an innate gift for telling stories, and on her regular trips to the library to escape her family unit, she finds herself telling her imagined tale of an acrobat and an escapologist to a captivated librarian. It is quite surprising how quickly you are drawn in, and of course, great staging and attention to detail plays a significant role in this.
Emotional lows, including the moving song ‘I’m Here’ are balanced by comedic moments including the wicked headmistress Ms Trunchbull, played by Bertie Carvel, spinning a pupil around by her pigtails and stretching a young boys ears with grotesque realism.
The set, designed by Rob Howell, is exceptional. On arrival to the theatre, the audience is greeted with a sea of blocks covering seemingly every inch of the stage and beyond. These are referenced during one of many incredibly clever and fast moving dance routines, which rely on impeccable timing and agile dance techniques.
The character which stood out most vividly for me was the Matilda’s mother, Mrs Wormwood, played by Josie Walker, who demonstrates remarkable comic timing and endears herself, even while mocking her incompetent husband – as it’s hilariously clear she doesn’t know any better herself.
The script and songs have you giddy and howling with laughter, and it’s hard to resist being drawn in by such an optimistic lead character. ‘When I grow up’ is particularly contagious, and is performed by children balancing on a swing set suspended from the rafters. The message throughout the show is one of taking control of your own story. This, coupled with a childish sense of right and wrong, reminds us what is forgotten when we ourselves grow up.