Being a favourite book can be a surprisingly cumbersome burden. Matilda by Roald Dahl has always been particularly special to me (not the least because the main character is an almost namesake). I mean, she practically was me despite my parents being normal; my school life not as dangerous and my genius levels never quite living up to magical powers. I loved it.
So little me was conflicted with my incredible enjoyment of this show – on ever so many levels it is fabulous. An intricately woven together, great staging and fabulous performances, what conflict could there be? Well they changed it. They were really naughty with it. I’m sorry, I understand (especially having seen it twice) why Dennis Kelly did this but part of me will never be able to accept that he did.
The additions that worked included the development of Mrs. Phelps the librarian and the parallel story world that Matilda creates in the library. However the tying together of this reality with Miss. Honey’s story came across as far too convenient, hammering a point home that was unnecessary. And speaking of unnecessary, the Russian Mafia? Really? It was objectively rather funny but what it did was present Matilda as the most splendiferous, wondrous, marvellous, glorious girl that ever existed. The point of the book that I had always taken is that whilst it is true she is special, every child is and the crime of her parents is not to recognise that. This would have been a crime whether she was reading Dostoyevsky or not. It’s not that she actually is a princess/prince it is that she is not regarded as one. Miss. Honey recognises this and loves her for who she is. A little bit of naughty goes a long way and for me this changing of essence behind the story almost ruined it. It was great testament to the quality of the show itself that it didn’t.
The characterisation generally was great, the slight reworking of Mrs. Wormwood worked well, suited the medium and was energetically performed by Josie Walker and the dumbing down of Michael had many comic rewards for Peter Howe. Agatha Trunchbull was less the monster I remembered and more pantomime villain but the audience were generally on board with this and Bertie Carvel was greeted by cheers and boos when she stalked on stage. Paul Kaye as Mr. Wormwood was a highlight and Melanie le Barrie as Miss. Honey had a souring voice that lent an emotional depth to her role. The school children were all fabulous and Matilda especially in both performances was captivating as she had ever been on the pages of the book – as brought to life by Roald Dahl and Quentin Blake.
Their original spirit of fun was embedded in all elements of this show. The choreography and direction was dynamic and the set by Robert Howell was impressively immersive. Tim Minchin has always been a favourite of mine and his songs lifted this Matilda above an adaptation. They were funny and cheeky and a little bit heartbreaking. At times hilarious and at times beautiful his music the perfect mix with Dennis Kelly’s script – which despite my misgivings was impressive. That it was performed by a live orchestra was a real treat, in fact, the entire performance was!
Hopefully the well deserved success of Matilda the Musical will get us all not just to read more but to go and see theatre as an alternative to TELLY. And even little me cannot find any fault in that story.