Matilda is ‘the most original British musical of the last decade’

Roald Dahl’s novel may be 30 years old, but this adaptation from the Royal Shakespeare Company resonates chillingly

Matilda The Musical
Bord Gáis Energy Theatre
The opening scene of Matilda The Musical brings together a cast of coddled little worms, "jumped up little germs", revolting brats deemed "miracles" by their equally revolting parents. Roald Dahl's novel may be 30 years old, but this adaptation from the Royal Shakespeare Company resonates chillingly with contemporary over-parenting and "the special little soldiers, precious barrelinas [sic]" it has produced.

However, it is poor unloved prodigy Matilda (the mischievous Nicola Turner), on whom this tale turns, although her parents are too busy watching TV to notice her genius. As well as an adult reading ability and a fluency in Russian, this five year-old has a highly developed sense of morality, which she will put to good use ensuring all the injustice she witnesses is set right.

Dennis Kelly’s book adds an extra layer of metaphorical narrative to Dahl’s original material, framing Matilda’s story as a fairytale waiting for a happy ending, while Tim Minchin’s score spans a range of contemporary musical influences, from the expressionistic instrumentation of Stephen Sondheim in Pathetic and This Little Girl to the rock-pop flavor of Andrew Lloyd Webber in The Chokey Chant. Peter Darling’s striking choreography, meanwhile, uses all levels of Rob Howell’s scattered alphabet-brick set, and is particularly effective in the standout school-room numbers.

There are two strokes of genius in this production, directed by Matthew Warchus. The first is the casting of Miss Trunchbull (here played by Craige Eels) in drag. With his commanding physicality, Eels matches the grotesquerie of Dahl’s characterization, while undercutting the headmistress’ threat with comedy. The second coup is the use of a mixed ensemble of child and adult actors, which gives an added edge to the visual spectacle and echoes the themes of innocence corrupted, nowhere more effectively than in When I Grow Up.

If the final scene is a little weak, it is only because the rest of the production is so good. Even the curtain call - delivered on scooters - sings with creativity. This is five-star material, presented by a slick and confident cast. It is surely the most original British musical of the last decade.

  • Until April 28th