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Friday, 4 February 2011

Liberty Jackson reviews Matilda, A Musical

Directed by Matthew Warchus
Royal Shakespeare Company, The Courtyard Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon

I remember when I first found out that the RSC were staging a musical production of Roald Dahl’s Matilda. I had just sat down to watch their 2009 production of Arabian Nights. I opened the programme and was flicking through when I suddenly saw an A4 poster advert for Matilda. I was 16 at the time, (I’m 17 now) and my dad turned to me and said, ‘Won’t you be too old then?’ I looked at him like he was mad – my favourite book, my favourite film, being put on stage, and as a musical... I was so excited! I enjoyed Arabian Nights immensely, but throughout I couldn’t quite get over the fact that Matilda was being made into a musical – in my hometown!
Fast forward to November 2010 when Matilda, A Musical opened.  With the book and indeed, film adaptation as iconic works in the arts industry, I was intrigued to find out how Dennis Kelly and Tim Minchin would make their mark on the RSC’s new production.
I feel privileged in two ways; not only was I lucky enough to see Matilda five times, I was also fortunate to see each team perform! My first visit to the Courtyard to see Matilda, I saw the team headed by Kerry Ingram as Matilda. Even as I was walking to take my seat, I was in awe of the set, and couldn’t help looking up until I spotted the swings. I had already seen the RSC’s promotional video, so I knew what the swings were used for – but I couldn’t wait to see it live! From the opening bars of the band, until the concluding cartwheel, I was covered from head to toe in goose bumps and was taken away, encapsulated in this wonderful story.
Kerry’s portrayal of Matilda was a completely unique take of the character. Her vulnerability instantaneously won the hearts of the audience, whilst still maintaining Matilda’s feisty character, as demonstrated particularly well in Matilda’s first solo song, Naughty. Joining Kerry was an unbelievably talented bunch of children, or should I say actors, who had every ounce of professionalism held by their older colleagues; namely, James Beesley, who played Bruce. His character could be that of a ‘disgusting criminal’ as supposed by Bertie Carvel’s fabulous, show stealing portrayal of Miss Trunchbull. However, his cheeky smile and sensational voice won me over in an instant. Tim Minchin’s lyrics for Revolting Children suited his personality perfectly, and as we had previously fallen in love with Kerry, we fell for James.
About a week later, I came to the courtyard again, this time to see Josie Griffiths as Matilda. Her confidence was second to none, and despite a few slip ups she had the audience as putty in her hands. Again, her supporting cast was faultless and Rebecca Stoll’s performance as Lavender, Matilda’s feisty best friend, was exceptional. Lauren Ward’s portrayal of Miss Honey was enchanting, and at the end of her solo number, My House, I had tears rolling down my cheeks. Once again, Mr and Mrs Wormwood were real life caricatures, played to perfection by Paul Kaye and Josie Walker. Their comedic value echoed that of Matilda’s parents in the film adaptation, played by Danny DeVito and Rhea Pearlman.
Adrianna Bertola’s interpretation of Matilda was enchanting; she had complete command of the stage right from her opening song, Miracle. Her confidence convinced the audience the RSC had made the right decision in letting children take on the lead roles, where before they would’ve been given to adults. Matthew Malthouse’s character Rudolpho was becoming more hilarious with each visit. (Two words: Energy – Flow!) The stunning setting, which on the surface seemed simple, was incredibly versatile, transforming seamlessly from the Wormwoods house to Mrs Phelps library and beyond. Melanie La Barrie’s Mrs Phelps was exceedingly good, winning over every single audience, and I’m sure, cast member, acting as our internal monologue on stage. The carefully crafted storyline, the ideal casting and delightful songs left every person I know stunned. Male friends of mine cringed with embarrassment telling me that, actually, they really enjoyed the performance.
Matilda is a production that will leave an impression on everyone who has the opportunity to see it, and I’m sure will be entertaining audiences for years to come. It has something for everyone, and in the opening number of Act Two, When I Grow Up, these seem to blend together. Adults and children alike are left, not only in awe at the skill of the swingers, but reminiscing and realising ambitions. It is an example of why we should never doubt theatre’s ability to amaze, as confirmed with the Amanda Thripp scene. The choreography, stunts and voices are something that I thought previously could only be achieved in films after months of editing. Well done RSC!
Liberty Jackson, age 17

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