Matilda The Musical is the multi-award winning musical from the Royal Shakespeare Company, inspired by the beloved book by the incomparable Roald Dahl.
With book by Dennis Kelly and original songs by Tim Minchin, Matilda The Musical is the story of an extraordinary little girl who, armed with a vivid imagination and a sharp mind, dares to take a stand and change her own destiny.
Note: The below review contains spoilers for the main storyline from Matilda – normally I would try to avoid these where possible but I feel that this is such a well known story that its not an issue. If you don’t want to know what happens in the show then please stop reading now.
*Disclaimer: My ticket to the show was free in exchange for blogging about my experience. The below opinions are still my own and not influenced by this in any way.
Matilda was one of my FAVOURITE movies as a kid, in fact pretty much anything with Mara Wilson was, but Matilda and I were so alike her story really resonated with me. I was pretty smart, read a TONNE of books but thankfully had an incredibly loving family instead of the neglectful one portrayed by the Wormwoods. I also didn’t have Matilda’s magical abilities although goodness knows I desperately wanted them!
So when I was invited along to check out the musical version of Matilda at the Cambridge Theatre on Seven Dials by the London Box Office team my expectations were high. Perhaps a little too high, as it missed the mark for me and wasn’t quite magical enough. Let me explain…
When you think about the movie Matilda what’s the first thing that comes to mind? If you don’t say the scene where Matilda is learning to master her powers after her father is yelling at her; eating Cheerios without any hands, turning on lights and making objects fly across the room then I’m gonna call you a liar.
I know these effects are so much harder to convey on stage than they are in a movie that can be heavily edited but if The Cursed Child can literally make it appear that someone has drank Polyjuice potion and become a completely different person that proves it’s not impossible. And this isn’t just dialled down for stage – it’s missing almost entirely to the point where I didn’t think they were going to include it and when she eventually DOES use her powers to scare away Miss Trunchbull it doesn’t really make much sense.
The staging was the most magical part of the show for me with an incredible backdrop of seemingly random letters which you later realise aren’t quite so random and instead change into words related to the story as the set pieces move in to place to form different settings; Matilda’s home, the library and of course the school classroom.
To be honest all of the actors are pretty great given the material they are working with and the kids are exceptional! No, really. You’d think that having so many youngsters in one show would mean some of them might be a bit wooden or off but they all play their parts wonderfully. Although the lyrics they’re singing aren’t always clear, their enthusiasm is remarkable as they never fail to miss a choreographed beat. The child playing Lavender seemed to be having a whale of a time and was an over-enthusiastic ball of excitement which is just how the character should be played.
Key scenes from the movie like Amanda Thripp being swung around by her pigtails and Bruce Bogtrotter being forced to eat an entire ginormous chocolate cake are played out with the help of a little theatre magic but a weird subplot about Matilda making up a story to tell the librarian that was woven throughout didn’t add anything to the story for me. In fact it made Matilda seem even sadder and lonelier than she is in the movie which is already pretty distressing.
The songs didn’t help this perception much either with the majority of them being incredibly dull and forgettable. I don’t know much about Tim Minchin but I didn’t think his style was a great fit for this show which should be an exciting and magical romp with the odd poignant moment. Sadly we’re treated to the opposite instead; a sad story with one or two moments of magic thrown in.