Left – James Millar. Cover – the cast. Photos – James Morgan
Based on the darkly comic novel, Matilda, by beloved author Roald Dahl, Matilda the Musical recounts the tale of precocious child-genius, Matilda Wormwood, who prefers Dickens and Dostoevsky to TV, can perform dazzling mathematical feats on cue, and overcomes an array of obstacles with her pluck, optimism, intelligence, and even a dash of magic.
It’s not difficult to see how Matilda the Musical managed to scoop a record-breaking seven awards at the 2012 Laurence Olivier Awards. It’s a truly exceptional production, populated with all the of memorable characters from the novel: there’s the gaudy, ballroom-dancing-obsessed Mrs Wormwood (Marika Aubrey), who, quoting a memorable line from the book, informs the audience that she chose “looks over books,” there’s the obtuse, oily car salesman Mr Wormwood (Brandon McGibbon), and the draconian headmistress Miss Trunchbull, played with brilliant comic timing by James Millar.
Matilda is the kind of cult classic you don’t want to botch. It’s a novel that’s dear to many reader’s hearts (my own included), so the stakes are high. Luckily, it fell into the hands of writer Dennis Kelly, who deftly reworks the beloved childhood tale into a compelling, and at times laugh-out-loud funny book.
He is aided by beloved Perth comedian and musician Tim Minchin, who was commissioned by The Royal Shakespeare Company to write the music and lyrics to a musical theatre version of Matilda, which debuted at Stratford-upon-Avon in 2010, and went on to open in London’s iconic West End in 2011 to rave reviews.
But it’s less about the adults than the kids, at least for me. While Eva Murawski is fabulous as Matilda (in turn, winsome, feisty and hilarious), she is flanked by an entire cast of talented youngsters. They are a rip-roaring, desk-thumping, rebel-rousing lot who give it everything they’ve got, particularly in the beautifully-choreographed School Song and the uplifting, nostalgia-tinged When I Grow Up.
The final number, Revolting Children, was a personal favourite, punctuated by showers of confetti and a scene-stealing performance from Bruce Bogtrotter (Exodus Lale), who emerged from a daytime snooze at his desk to rock out some seriously high notes and a collection of impressive dance moves.
Fans of Tim Minchin are used to his satirical riffs on political subjects, often in musical form, and in Matilda The Musical, he’s given us some form of that, albeit, in a slightly more family-friendly package. Many of the songs speak to the frustrations and fears of childhood, as well as their invariable reappearance in adult life.
But Matilda The Musical is ultimately uplifting – a paean to the virtue of courage and determination, and a cautionary tale for would-be bullies (even those as entertaining as Miss Trunchbull). With stunning costumes and sets, catchy songs and impeccable performances, Matilda The Musical is an absolute must-see.
The Royal Shakespeare Company presents
Matilda The Musical
book Dennis Kelly | music Tim Minchin | based on the novel by Roald Dahl
Director Matthew Warchus
Venue: Crown Theatre Perth
Dates: 28 February – 7 May 2017