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Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Anna Laycock reviews Matilda the Musical

Matilda The Musical
Cambridge Theatre, London
12th November 2011
Directed by Matthew Warchus
Booking until October 2012
Matilda the Musical is definitely the best British musical in the West End, if not the best musical currently playing in the UK, or even the world. It is that good. I laughed, I cried, I play the soundtrack all the time and I have recommended it to everyone I know.  I may be obsessed, but I’m not the only one. I have not known anyone to come out from a production of Matilda and not love it. The Royal Shakespeare Company has created a work of genius that is sure to be viewed as a masterpiece of British theatre for many years to come.
After seeing the production twice at the Courtyard Theatre in Stratford last year I fell in love with the show and I could not wait to experience Matilda on a West End stage. Yet, I have to admit I was slightly apprehensive about the transfer from the rather intimate thrust stage at the Courtyard to the large proscenium-arch at the Cambridge.  There was a danger that the set would eclipse the performances and the story would lose some of its heart. However this did not happen at all. Rob Howell’s set design is magnificent, with colourful letters of the alphabet branching out from the stage allowing for the proscenium-arch to have a thrust like feel. Rather than overshadowing the performers and the plot, the set enhanced them, serving as a constant reminder of the underlining theme of the musical, the power of story-telling.
Dennis Kelly’s book is remarkably clever; it is, on one level, a simple retelling of Dahl’s tale of a young girl with extraordinary powers overcoming unloving parents and a cruel headmistress. However, on deeper level (one Lit students like me greatly appreciate!) the story is a metanarrative, a story about the process of storytelling and the power of the teller to “change their story”.  Therefore, the musical ingeniously appeals to children, adults and literature geeks alike.
The musical does advocate the importance of reading books, with our young heroine, Matilda, and the lovely Miss Honey being proud bookworms whereas the stupid Mr Wormwood and the villainous Miss Trunchbull are firmly against reading. The musical accentuates the role the library plays in Matilda’s life and the inspirational librarian, Mrs Phelps’ role as a friend and a mentor to Matilda.  The celebration of books and libraries can be seen as having an underlying political message in a country that is closing libraries left, right and centre.
 Tim Minchin’s music and lyrics are brilliant. Lyrics such as “My mummy says I’m a miracle” are simple enough for children to understand, yet Minchin always appeals to adult humour, my mum vouches that Mrs Wormwood in her “Hospital cotton with a smarting front-bottom” definitely appeals to any woman who has given birth! Minchin was born to write this musical, his comic wit guarantees it to be one of the most entertaining and funny musicals in the West End.
It is the talented cast that is the backbone of this production. Both the adults and children are outstandingly talented. When the cast come together as an ensemble for numbers such as “Miracle”, “School Song” and “When I Grow Up” the creative synchronized chorography coupled with the beautiful harmonies the effect is enchanting. Yet, individually the cast are also superb. Bertie Carvel creates a comical yet chillingly sinister Miss Trunchbull, his characterisation of the headmistress from hell is tremendous, allowing her to develop from Dahl’s archetypal villain to a psychologically complex character with an intriguing past history.
Lauren Ward is charming as Miss Honey, who is also expanded from being a simply “good” character to a complex character who is haunted by her past. We can really emphasise with Miss Honey’s lack of self confidence when confronting her boss and bully of an aunt in “Knock on the Door”. Her vulnerability is also depicted at the end of “When I grow up” where she wishes “to be brave enough to fight the creatures that you have beneath the bed each night to be a grown-up” highlighting that the musical is as much the bildungsroman (coming of age story) of Miss Honey as it is the story of Matilda.
Yet, it is Matilda’s musical and Kerry Ingram (one of four young actresses who share the role) proves that. Age is no barrier in this musical, Kerry Ingram danced, sung and acted just as hard and as well (if not even slightly better!) than the professionally trained adult ensemble. She highlighted both Matilda’s vulnerability and her strong determination to do stand up for what is right and to change her story.  Her solos “Naughty” and “Quiet” were outstanding, whenever Kerry was on stage all eyes were encapsulated onto her. I predict a future leading lady or even perhaps a world-class film star or singer, Kerry is so talented the world is her oyster.
Matilda the Musical is a work of genius, surpassing Danny DeVito’s 1996 film and even Dahl’s original novel.  The plot is simple, yet embedded within it is so many layers of meaning; you can watch it again and again without ever getting bored. Anyone who has not yet seen Matilda must go and see it. Above all, it is a first-rate night of entertainment that will leave you feeling full of joy.
Review by Anna Laycock


  1. I was lucky enough to see the musical with my family! My sister likes "Matilda the Musical", so i have ordered discount Matilda the Musical tickets again from

  2. I loved the show! I also just brought some more theatre tickets london -- I cant wait to see the next show!