Thursday, January 12, 2012

Review: Matilda, the musical (West End)

Matilda, the musical 
Music and lyrics Tim Minchin, book by Dennis Kelly 
Wednesday 11th January 2012, 2:30pm 
Cambridge Theatre, London

Musicals don’t get much better than Matilda. The show has adults and children clapping, crying, gasping and jumping of fright in unison from start to finish.

Tim Minchin (music and lyrics) is a wordsmith, and his work resembles the sharp wit and tinkering tunes of Stephen Sondheim, together with a unique Minchin sense of fun and childlike humour.

Minchin cleverly navigates the original Roald Dahl novel while creating minimal resemblance to the film. The most jarring differences make for the most fun. Frightening schoolmistress Miss Trunchbull played by a camp, fierce but altogether male Bertie Carvel is a quirky change that breeds one hilarious moment after another.

Tricks and special effects are original and impressive, as is the complex but uncluttered set design. From swings that fly above the audience to towers of books that spell words, and chalk that hovers mid-air, no penny or strike of artistry has been spared. The overall effect generates a child-like wonder combined with a fantasy dream-world of bold colours and magical things.

The show is impeccably cast, particularly the girls who play Matilda. Matilda is a demanding role regardless of age, and Cleo Demetriou - a little dynamite of confidence and ability - blitzed through the show without flaw. I was in tears by curtain call to see such a talented little girl dwarfed by the adult cast standing centrestage taking her well-earned bows.

The messages and themes of Matilda are inter generational. As a child, I saw the story through the eyes of Matilda – a girl who is nurtured by a teacher who understands, protects, and challenges her. Revisiting the story ten years later, I didn’t anticipate how much I would identify with Miss Honey and connect with her loss and sense of completion through Matilda. The show reminds us that, like Miss Honey, we bring our childhood with us through life – both the good and the bad parts.

Matilda is a complete package, perhaps not filled with Phantom-esque show-stopping songs, but with a robust, cohesive creative vision. The music, book, set, costume, cast, direction and sound design compliment and enhance each other almost to perfection. I expect Matilda to sweep the upcoming awards season and successfully tour around the world. Plus, a very warm welcome from the musical theatre community to Tim Minchin. I only hope he stays and continues to write good musicals – there is definitely room for them.