Playwright Dennis Kelly and musical comedian Tim Minchin have produced a raucous, infectious delight of a production with their hit, Matilda the Musical, now running at the Cambridge Theatre in London. While a staged version of Roald Dahl’s classic children’s story could have turned out sickly sweet, or overly Americanised like the 1996 Danny Devito film, this musical perfectly captures the anarchic and often cruel world that Dahl created. Kelly’s script is true to the book but adds an additional element of meaning, creating richer characters and no shortage of humour, while Minchin’s lyrics are sharp and witty. There are some seriously catchy songs, like the show’s opener, “Miracle”, and some musical moments that had adult audience members in tears, like the heart-wrenching “Quiet.”
The stage design, headed by Rob Howell, is a shrine to the words that Matilda loves so much, dominated by letter blocks and stacks of books, creating a whimsical and colourful set that the actors move about with unparalleled energy. The kids all seem to be having a fantastic time, bursting with excitement and performing Minchin’s songs and Peter Darling’s stomping, lively choreography with precision and joy. The Matildas, played on alternating nights by Eleanor Worthington Cox, Cleo Demetriou, Kerry Ingram and Sophia Kiely, are all extremely talented and manage to play their precocious character with a surprising degree of humour and likeability while belting out their songs with impressive vocal range. The standout performance, however, is Bertie Carvel’s ridiculous and hilarious Miss Trunchbull, performed in drag and somehow managing to look identical to Quentin Blake’s illustrations of the character.
Matilda the Musical is something truly special: a family production that can genuinely be enjoyed by the entire family, a quality that doesn’t always feature in hit shows these days. As clever as its title character, this is an outrageously fun musical that looks set to rule the West End for some time to come.