Photos – James Morgan
The Royal Shakespeare Company turned to musical theatre over 30 years ago and gave the world a theatrical masterpiece – Les Miserables. In recent years they have turned their attention to another literary classic – the children's book Matilda by Roald Dahl.
Director Matthew Warchus, in collaboration with Dennis Kelly (book) and surprisingly, Australian Tim Minchin (music and lyrics) has turned the pages and given glorious life to what is essentially a grim and dark tale. Complimented by a stunning design (Rob Howell) and slick choreography (Peter Darling) Matilda the Musical shines glowingly as inventive, clever, funny and just plain marvellous.
Based closely on Dahl's book about a little girl genius who loves to read, this Matilda not only loves to read (amazingly for a 5-year old) but loves to tell stories. Unfortunately her life is rather grim. Her parents don't love her (her father constantly refers to her as a boy), and she attends school run by one of the nastiest, ugliest bullies seen on stage in recent times – the frightening Miss Trunchbull.
A librarian (Mrs Phelps) who delights in listening to Matilda's tales, and the compassionate teacher Miss Honey who recognises the genius in the child, are the only beacons of stability in this little girl's world. But Matilda has a strength of character and determination, as well as a taste for revenge, that will (of course) see good triumph over evil.
This stage adaptation works extremely well, highlighting the larger than life characters, (with suitably large performances), appealing to children who love a little bit of scare in their stories and those adults who not only identify with the themes, but are able to savour the witty lyrics by Minchin, better known for his comic performances than musical theatre.
The show really stands or falls on two performances – that of Matilda and of course, Miss Trunchbull. Fortunately both these roles have been beautifully cast – in fact this company as a whole has been perfectly cast, with delightful performances at every turn.
On opening night, Ingrid Torelli made her professional debut as Matilda. Torelli triumphed in what is an extremely demanding role – aside from being the leading role. A standing ovation with her alone on stage at the encores, proved that this tiny frame has a huge bundle of talent to offer. (Four talented young girls will share the role during the season).
James Millar gives a hideous, calculated and deliciously evil performance as Miss Trunchbull. He cleverly underplays the comedy, while delivering every line carefully and articulately. A memorable performance from a seasoned actor, which should open up many more leading roles.
Other standout performances include Elise McCann (Miss Honey), Cle Morgan (Mrs Phelps) Daniel Frederiksen (Mr Wormwood) and Marika Aubrey (as the outlandish Mrs Wormwood). Mention must also be made of Daniel Stow who played Bruce at this performance.
The impressive design of letters, blocks and books forms a stunning backdrop for the action, which has been carefully and cleverly staged by Warchus and an amazing team.
The songs are delightful in their individual ways, allowing characters to shine. Mrs Wormwood and Rudolpho (Loud), the company literally swinging (When I Grow Up) and Miss Trunchbull's brilliant The Smell of Rebellion are just some of the many musical moments to savour.
This Matilda is a welcome contribution to the theatrical year. One can only hope that commercial producers continue to deliver new, invigorating works such as this to our stages.
Royal Shakespeare Company and Louise Withers with Michael Coppel and Michael Watt present
MATILDA THE MUSICAL
based on the novel by Roald Dahl | book by Dennis Kelly | music and lyrics by Tim Minchin
Director Matthew Warchus
Venue: Princess Theatre | Spring Street Melbourne VIC
Dates: 13 March – 22 May 2016
Tickets: $55 – $150
Bookings: 1300 723 038 | ticketmaster.com.au