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Matilda The Musical, Birmingham Hippodrome - review with pictures

By Sally-Anne Youll | Theatre & Comedy | Published:

There has been much hype about Matilda The Musical since it first appeared in stage as the RSC's Christmas show in 2010.

RSC Matilda The Musical UK & Ireland Tour. Photo Manuel Harlan

So it was with high expectations that I went along to see the show for the first time this week as it came to Birmingham’s Hippodrome on its first UK tour.

And I was not disappointed.

Borne from the imagination of Roald Dahl, for many the greatest children's writer of all time, written for the stage by Dennis Kelly and mixed with the childlike genius of Tim Minchin's music and lyrics the show is a triumph. It has already been seen by around eight million people worldwide and it is easy to see why it is still going strong.

It was a triumph of comedy, music, glee, mischief, melancholy and sinister hilarity. Awash with talent from an exceptional cast, quite simply, it brought the house down.

The staging is simple; books, letters and words forming the basis of the scenery. The show bursts into life with an energetic performance from the young cast members performing Miracle, infecting the audience with their enthusiasm right from the start.

RSC Matilda The Musical UK & Ireland Tour. Photo Manuel Harlan

Matilda’s intellectually-challenged parents, played brilliantly by Rebecca Thornhill and Sebastien Torkia, leave the the audience in stitches with their caricature performances.

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There are the inevitable comparisons with the 1996 film of the book, with Danny DeVito and Rhea Perlman playing Matilda's parents, but they soon fade into the background as these two actors storm the stage, she the ballroom-dancing Cockney queen; he the archetypal wide-boy, complete with dodgy suit and giant quiff, turned green by one of his despised daughter's first pranks.

Here the young Matilda, played by Lara Cohen, performs one of the musical’s most iconic songs, Naughty, with its perfect blend of mischief and melancholy. Lara performs with aplomb and just the right amount twinkle in her eye.

RSC Matilda The Musical UK & Ireland Tour. Photo Manuel Harlan

Miss Honey, played by Carly Thoms, who was in excellent voice, is the kind-hearted teacher who wants to help the gifted Matilda, but fails to find the strength of character, until Matilda leads by example, standing up the the terrifying headmistress Miss Trunchbull.

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And what a character she is! Making her entrance halfway through Act One like a Bond villain sat at her office desk (all that was missing was the white cat) she goes on to steal the show.

Craig Els plays her to brilliant comic effect, managing to get across a towering figure of an evil woman yet evoking fits of laughter from the audience with his great physical comedy.

RSC Matilda The Musical UK & Ireland Tour. Photo Manuel Harlan

A beast of a woman with a taste for chocolate cake and swinging little girls round by their pigtails (yes, this does happen), she looms over the children and Miss Honey. The sight of her in her gym kit is hilarious, before Els has even spoken a line.

Act Two begins with an ode to the Telly and its merits over the much-hated books, performed by Matilda’s dad and brother Michael, played with more than a touch of Harry Enfield’s Kevin the Teenager by Matthew Caputo.

Then it's straight into the famous swing scene, evoking childhood memories for everyone as another now iconic song When I Grow Up is performed.

RSC Matilda The Musical UK & Ireland Tour. Photo Manuel Harlan

Matilda’s story-telling scenes in the library are another triumph, as her supposedly-imagined tale of the escapologist and the acrobat is brought to life to the delight of librarian Mrs Phelps, played warmly by Michelle Chantelle Hopewell.

There are too many highlights to mention in one place, although Matt Gillett deserves a mention for his comic turn as Rudolpho, Mrs Wormwood’s dance partner, as does Adam Vaughan as Sergei, the Russian gangster.

All of the cast members, particularly the younger ones, are clearly having the time of their lives and it comes across, earning them all a highly-deserved standing ovation.

RSC Matilda The Musical UK & Ireland Tour. Photo Manuel Harlan

This is the perfect show for all ages; there are plenty of grown-up moments, but it never loses its child's perspective.

And in the end it's the children that teach the adults, not only the ones on stage, an important life lesson, that sometimes it's OK to be a little bit naughty.

Sally-Anne Youll

By Sally-Anne Youll
Assistant Editor

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