Thursday, January 10, 2013

Matilda Review (SPOILERS)

Cambridge Theatre, London

I first saw this musical in its original home at Stratford-upon-Avon. Since then I have come to love it and was therefore anxious to see it again. Please be aware, in case I spoil your enjoyment of this musical, that I will be going into a lot of detail as to why I love this musical. Click Read More to see the review, but for those who would prefer not to know too much of the story, I will sum up that this is for me the best Roald Dahl adaptation ever. The cast was excellent particularly Hayley Canham as Matilda and David Leonard as the psychotic Miss Trunchball. Despite the simplistic set there is enough spectacle to amaze the audience. Although there are two small moments that bothered me near the end, This would be one of my favourite musicals of all time, which I have only given to two others, and I would rate this a

Premium Seat

P.S. I would recommend seats F12 and F15 in the Stalls. Although they are premium seats they are worth every penny just for one special moment in the musical.

I have enjoyed a number of the film and stage adaptations of Roald Dahl. A lot of the time they are faithful to the nastiness or magic of the books, including Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971)The BFG (1989) and James and the Giant Peach (1996)The Witches (1990), and David Woods' plays, despite a number of deviations. However, in my opinion some do stray too far from the original, for example Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005), Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009) and Matilda (1996).

What this musical does however is get to the heart of the book, which is primarily about the main protagonists, or the children. Roald Dahl for instance said that Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory put too much emphasis on Wonka at the example Charlie. Roald Dahl's most popular books follow children in difficult situations. In Matilda's case the book follows a girl who wants to learn and be loved, yet is mistreated by her parents and her headmistress. She takes matters into her own hands, educates herself, develops very rapidly, and seizes every opportunity to punish the grown-ups.

It is this story that the musical tells brilliantly. Like Les Miserables and Spring Awakening, musicals have proven that with a good songwriter and composer the story can be conveyed and expressed well in the songs. This is what Tim Minchin has done so brilliantly with Matilda. First off the musical does remain faithful to the book. The book starts off  telling how parents would always see their child as wonderful, even when the child "is the most disgusting little blister you could ever imagine", whilst the Wormwood's see Matilda as a "scab". In the first song, Miracle, as the children boast how spoilt they are by their "devoted" parents. It also gives some insight into why the Wormwoods hate Matilda

As Matilda mixes her mother's hydrogen peroxide with her father's hair oil, she sings the song, Naughty, making it clear that no one else but her will control her life. Indeed during the musical, she proves that she can take things into her own hands time and time again. The musical meanwhile excels at explaining Matilda's desire to be loved. This is illustrated by her invention of another family and the parents she wishes she had. This is brought out in the subplot involving a couple, an escapologist (Tommy Sherlock) and an acrobat (Maria Lawson), and their daughter, who are terrorised by the acrobat's malevolent sister. It even becomes clear that Matilda sees herself as the abused daughter.The highlight for me however is when Matilda discovers her magic powers during the newt scene, in which she seems to go into a coma where she feels safe from all the noise and mistreatment she faces in her life in what is a rather sad song, "Quiet".

A number of Roald Dahl references from 'Matilda' and the other books appear in the musical. The musical never misses an opportunity to use Roald Dahl's nasty vocabulary. The familiar Roald Dahl word for instance, "revolting", is used in the song Revolting Children, and the children wore that word on their sleeves.There are some alterations and additions to the book. The Wormwoods during the ending scene do not get away quite so easily as in the book, and it now involves the Russian Mafia. Elsewhere, Mrs Wormwood (Annette McLaughlin) does not play bingo but practices Spanish dancing with her partner, Rudolpho (Marc Antolin). The only reason is to give her a song and dance number which is aptly titled Loud. These alterations however did not really matter because whilst they do add to the musical experience the main story does remains intact.

When I saw the musical the girl that played Matilda was Hayley Canham and she was full of energy when singing Naughty, and as she faced further mistreatment she showed a growing sense of dejection which made Quiet even more heartbreaking. Haley Flaherty was lovely as the reserved Miss Honey who showed such hopelessness when struggling to help Matilda's education, especially when singing This Little Girl. She does struggle though at times to hit the high notes, especially during My House.

Mark Goldthorp, as understudy, played Mr Wormwood with a 'no-nonsense' attitude, a nice contrast to original cast member Paul Kaye and his sleazy interpretation of the role. Annette McLaughlin's Mrs Wormwood showed herself as a thoroughly self-centered woman. The pair of them concentrated on themselves while mishaps occurred all around them. This is in contrast to the original production which portrayed the couple more as a couple of clowns. Tommy Sherlock played The Doctor/The Escapologist in Mark Goldthorp's place, though he did seem to struggle a good deal to hit the high notes.

The performance that stood out however is David Leonard as Miss Trunchball. Although original cast member Bertie Carvel looked more the part, David Leonard is almost as good. He never held back and had so much presence as the monstrous, overpowering and psychotic headmistress. He even had a mad glint in his eye that I liked. He had only been playing the role for a few months. He just needs to work on is Miss Trunchball's voice because he did sound like himself at times.

The set is pretty simple but that is all it needs to be, since the book does not have as much spectacle as others like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. What makes it exceptional are the letter tiles covering the proscenium and wings, and it is fun to pick out words from them. What few moments of spectacle there are will amaze you. The pigtail scene is unforgettable; I never imagined it could be accomplished. It is now one of my favorite stunts.

Two moments in this musical however do bother me. One is a revelation that Miss Honey is the Escapologist's daughter and that Miss Trunchball is the wicked aunt, which stretches believability. It was established from the beginning that the story of the Escapologist and his daughter was made up by Matilda, and yet during the second act the musical wants us to believe that the story actually happened in real life. Although I liked it, the writer, Dennis Kelly, has put one too many ideas into the story and it would have been better if it was an allegory for Miss Honey's original background as described the book.

The other problem is that moments before Matilda performs the chalkboard trick Miss Trunchball pulls off one last act of domination in which she reveals enough chokeys for the entire school as they begin to rebel against her. This act had to be changed when the musical moved from the confines of the Courtyard Theatre in Stratford, so that now the whole theatre becomes dotted with lasers to indicate each chokey. One almost expected Miss Trunchball to start stroking a white Persian cat. However these two moments happen near the end of the musical and when all is said in done they were irrelevant.

This is a brilliant musical. Congratulations to Dennis Kelly for writing a faithful and touching adaptation of the novel. The set is simple but there are some gob-smacking moments to enjoy. The cast was strong, and well done to Hayley Canham and David Leonard in particular for puling off some sterling performances. To me this is worth a Prenium Seat.

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