It’s 2019 and The RSC’s Matilda the Musical has reached its ninth birthday. With an exceptional level of creativity erupting from every scene, it’s every bit as clever and colourful as the story’s protagonist, who is played by a very charismatic Poppy Jones.
I walk into the theatre and instantly feel the excitement weaving its way through gaps in the crowd. Matilda merchandise is lining the walls and everyone is fuelled with the satisfaction that Theatre Royal Plymouth has once again delivered one of the West End’s most popular shows. Making my way to my seat, I’m absorbed by the opening set – piles of books and an assortment of letters stack their way from floor to ceiling. The colours are nothing less than electrifying and I feel myself enjoying a child-like state of excitement.
When the Wormwoods make their debut appearance, the scene is bold, funny, and as true to brashiness as Dahl and DeVito were in both book and film. The Wormwood characters are loud, their intellect low, and the debut performance sets the tone for the rest of the evening – bright and entertaining.
The children are exceptional – they’re like fish in water as they take to the stage and sing to the audience, interacting with ease and making us believe that this is just another day at school. My favourite character by far was Lavender, portrayed by the cheeky Chantelle Tonolete. Gripping the reigns of her role and commanding the stage, she had the audience in the palm of her hands and everyone was loving it. She was the cutest.
However, I was confused when adults in school uniform joined the children on stage. They portray older, more tortured kids – but why the drastic age gap? It’s slightly jarring that adults were cast over teenagers. Regardless, their engaging performance illustrated the extent of Trunchball’s savage leadership, which in itself made a great scene.
Speaking of Trunchball, Elliot Harper really takes a swing at embodying one of Dahl’s most notorious villains. At first, I feel deterred by his stage presence – I really felt that a bolshy woman, such as the film’s Pam Harris, would be funnier and more compelling. This feeling was quickly dispelled as Harper lost himself in the role and gave the songs plenty of welly, taking us all into his grasp.
Sadly, his foil, Miss Honey, was consistently tormenting. While Carly Thoms is one of the show’s strongest actors and singers, the writing of her character has not done her, or Miss Honey, justice. She is a wet blanket, and it is seriously grating.
Nevertheless, there are some really sensational pieces of theatre in this production. The recreation of the iconic hair swinging scene was unforgettable – everything from the direction, production, set engineering, lighting, and music is refined to absolute perfection in this moment. It’s genuinely hilarious, and I’m so glad I was there to experience it. Of course, there were plenty of other moments like this.
Matilda herself had some truly endearing moments with the librarian, Mrs Phelps. Creating a story of an escapologist and an acrobat, Matilda’s story is spoken into existence as she enthuses her librarian friend. As the characters of the story take form on stage, Matilda’s words physically unfold before us. They develop into costuming, lighting, and even elements of puppetry, which ultimately ties beautifully into Miss Honey’s overall narrative.
Overall, this show has some beautiful elements and really intelligent theatre. Segments of the book are entwined with new just-for-theatre features, so there’s always something new around the corner. The set design, the actors, the score, and the set engineering was sincerely remarkable, and I would recommend you visit it.
Go in with open eyes and you will drink in something quite special.
Find out more: https://www.theatreroyal.com/whats-on/2019/matilda-the-musical/
Buy tickets: https://tickets.theatreroyal.com/production/325617