Review: Matilda the Musical (Cambridge Theatre, London)

One of the hottest tickets in London in the last few years, Matilda has made a big impact. Starting life as the RSC’s Christmas show, it’s the brainchild of songwriter Tim Minchin and director Matthew Warchus. And it packs a real emotional punch, with plenty of humour to keep it family friendly.

Based on the novel by Roald Dahl, the musical focuses on a young girl, Matilda, who has had a rough start in life. Born to unwanting parents, and more intellectually savvy than your ordinary five year-old, we focus on her journey through school as she challenges the norm and learns that she has developed telekinetic powers.

With the help of her teacher Miss Honey, she battles her loathsome parents and the evil Miss Trunchbull in what shapes up to be a non-stop two and a half hour show.

Last night Lottie Sicila was on as Matilda, and what a performance she gave. With a stunning voice and a great matter-of-fact style she delivered the character flawlessly. Within seconds of her opening solo ‘Naughty’ she’d won over the audience. It was refreshing to see a child actor give such a strong and natural performance.

As Matilda’s teacher and ally, Miss Honey, Haley Flaherty is honest and sweet without being too typical. Her voice is perfectly matched to the character, timid and unassuming, but strong enough to give her character spine when needed. And as Matilda’s parents, Kay Murphy as Mrs Wormwood and James Clyde as Mr Wormwood there’s a real slapstick style that would feel like panto if it wasn’t delivered so well.

But the audience pleaser has to be Craige Els as the menacing Miss Trunchbull. A sweaty, spluttering mass with a mole-covered face and hairy legs, he’s disgusting and foul, and yet there are times when he plays Trunchbull with enough heart that you almost pity her. In fact, while she’s clearly the bad guy of the show, the book by Dennis Kelly is strong enough that you understand enough about her to not be one-dimensional.

The music by Tim Minchin really is stunning. Not only are the lyrics witty and further the comedy of the show itself, the songs never feel out of place – all helping to propel the story.

From the opening number to the penultimate ‘Revolting Children’ there’s plenty to have you laughing and get your leg tapping. Whether it was my nearly-on-the-stage seat or the energy in the songs, I was all but ready to get up there and swing out over the audience myself.

There’s also a real heart to the music though, and from ‘Naughty’ to Miss Honey’s confession in ‘My House’ you’ll be holding back the tears. ‘When I Grow Up’ is the show’s real showstopper though – it’s the moment we see Matilda and Miss Honey come together.

And it’s all delivered by a company who put their all into every minute – both adults and children. In fact, this has to be one of the tightest casts I’ve seen on stage – there’s a real energy to every single second. And that’s helped by choreography by Peter Darling that perfectly matches Minchin’s music – just check out ‘School Song’ to see the music and movement coming together perfectly.

And while I’m gushing, Rob Howell’s set design needs a mention too. It’s refreshing to see a British-made musical with such a strong style. While overall the design is a simple one, from the moment you enter the auditorium you’re drawn into the world of Matilda; Scrabble-like pieces cover the proscenium and spread out along the walls, desks rise out of the stage, books shelves stretch from the ground into the roof. You’re ticket price is right there on stage and you can see every penny of it.

Special mention this time has to go to girl who was on as Amanda. For those who remember the story, Miss Trunchball swings her by the pigtails and throws her like an Olympic hammer. And that’s exactly what happens, helped by a couple of disguised handles, Amanda is spun around mid-air to the point that I thought I must be looking at a doll. Nope.

Verdict: ★★★★★

No question on this one, the cast are second to none in the west end right now, and it’s a production with both real comedy and a real heart. I came out buzzing and I can’t imagine it’ll be long before I make a return trip. And with that, it’s definitely worth a five-star review!

Matilda the Musical is currently booking until December 2015. Tickets can be purchased from seetickets.com.

And the seat…

Stalls, row A, seat 3. It really doesn’t get any closer than this. That said it wasn’t perfect – there are three or four times where action is obscured on stage, either by set pieces or by other actors. It’s never enough to stop you knowing what’s going on but not a seat for purists or those who want to get most bang for their buck. There is literally tons of legroom though, because of the position between the edge of the stage and the staircase to the right, which is used by cast members plenty of times throughout the performance.

One warning though: one of the obstructions is a stretching/thrusting Spanish dancer who perches right in front of your eyeline for a good 30 seconds. It’s quite difficult to know where to look…

Cambridge Theatre, Stalls, Row A, Seat 3
Cambridge Theatre, Stalls, Row A, Seat 3
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