Thursday, 12 September 2019

REVIEW: Matilda at the Cambridge Theatre

I had the great pleasure of attending opening night for the brand-new cast of Matilda at the Cambridge Theatre, which premiered at the RSC in 2010. This is a multi-award-winning musical inspired by the beloved book by Roald Dahl and tells the story of a young girl who is growing up in a family that doesn’t appreciate her great love for books and her incredible imagination. Her habit of losing herself in literature doesn’t protect her however from nightmares and rage. Funnily enough, I was reminded of Stranger Things’ “L”, as Matilda starts moving objects with her mind and terrorising her bullies.

Matilda is written by playwright Dennis Kelly, with music and lyrics by the anarchic Australian comedian, musician and composer Tim Minchin, and direction by Matthew Warchus. The text and music are clever and ingenious, including humour for children and adults. This makes it the perfect treat for the whole family and will transport anyone to this familiar but dark world: indeed, it’s good to be reminded of how dark Dahl’s stories can be! 

While the schoolchildren in this story all end up working together against their bullying headmistress Miss Trunchbull, you have a sense that each of them is facing this world alone and are reminded of their vulnerability and willingness to just fit in. The opening song “Miracle” touches on the dangerous individualism that is characteristic of our society, and I think some of us have a version of a memory of a school kid saying to us “I like you, I think we should be best friends”. 

This new cast has just started performing this week on Monday; Tilly-Raye Bayer, the new Matilda, is a fragile lean girl but never loses her determination to make things right. The tears she sheds alone in her room after her parents have yet again made fun of her show the powerful thoughts a child can have despite young age. Ultimately, her brains and knowledge of Russian (she already read Dostoevsky in the original language) will allow her to win against bullies.

The children and adults beside her all create a beautiful ensemble: Sebastian Torkia as her father Mr Wormwood is delightful, Gina Beck as Miss Honey has the strongest voice in the whole cast, and Elliot Harper as Miss Trunchbull is just the right touch of creepy. There’s something unnerving about this man being so close to all these children in a skirt during the gym scene. I wonder if one year they’ll ask a woman to play the evil headmistress. 

I thought perhaps Bayer’s microphone could have been levelled a bit higher, as her words were sometimes washed out by the music. 

Finally, I have to commend the set design by Rob Howell, also responsible for costume. The world of letters, books and seamless transitions into the worlds Matilda creates in her head are mesmerising, involving the audience at some points too. 

This is one of the best musicals I’ve seen, brought to life with tremendous energy by the cast and reminding us of the sweet but dark innocent times of childhood.

Review by Sophie Tergeist 

Rating: ★★★★ 

Seat: J2 | Price of Ticket: £67.50

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