Saturday, 14 January 2012

GUESTPOST: Matilda: The Musical review by Edward Bankes

I would like to introduce you to my brother. His name is Edd, he is very intelligent and he once dressed up as a Spice Girl. His claim to fame is that he is the only Bankes to appear on University Challenge, but I have photographic evidence that proves this to be a lie:

(Thank you to my friend Tanya for this photographic evidence). Most importantly, he shares the book geek gene. Growing up in a Roald Dahl house, where you must be suspicious of gloved women and where the ONLY true ending to Little Red Riding Hood is Miss Hood whipping a pistol from her knickers, we were naturally excited and curious to see Matilda: The Musical.  

So we saw it. And now Edd is going to whip a pen from his knickers and write you a review. Actually, he says he'll just type it. 

Matilda: The Musical, Cambridge Theatre, 7th December 2011

It has shown in the past that it is a dangerous thing to try and alter the creations of Roald Dahl, with good witches saving little boys from mousedom and musical chocolate factories only highlighting the brilliance of Dahl as they pale by comparison. However, this is not a trap fallen into by Dennis Kelly and Tim Minchin, who, if anything, have made the story of Matilda even better, while sticking loyally to the spirit of swinging pigtails and chocolate cake gorging. 

The dialogue is sharp and perfectly timed, and the songs probably the most consistent of any show in the West End. While the plot sticks truly to that of Dahl’s 1988 original, the emendations serve only to celebrate even more successfully the importance of children reading and imagining that Dahl held onto so strongly: Matilda is frequently to be found in the library, where her power as a story teller drives the plot, as a cacophony of hideously wonderful characters surround her. 

Kelly’s book is so well judged that it could easily be Dahl, mixing bits of Dahl and his own imagination brilliantly. Tim Minchin’s songs are instantly memorable - weeks later I still find myself absent-mindedly singing the anthemic ‘Revolting Children’. The lyrics are frankly genius, and, when performed, seem entirely in character - a testament to the brilliant partnership between the two writers. 

It is of course because of an extremely well-chosen cast, many of whom remain from the original Stratford production, that the show succeeds. Bertie Carvel as Miss Trunchbull naturally stands out and seems to be the perfect embodiment of Dahl’s imagination in the original story, and left me wondering whether only a man in drag could communicate the shock and awe that her presence creates. 

However, the rest of the cast are hardly left overshadowed. Lauren Ward as Miss Honey manages to be loveable but there is also, as I feel was lacking in the film adaption, the inescapable fact she is a bit of a loser - it is fitting her first solo is entitled ‘Pathetic’. Her interplay with Trunchbull is hilarious, if not soul crushing. Matilda’s parents, played by Paul Kaye and Josie Walker, are just as grotesque as could be hoped for. Mrs Wormwood, transformed into a bitter mother resenting Matilda taking away her dreams of becoming a star dancer, and her cutting attitude towards everyone she encounters is a joy to watch. Paul Kaye manages to combine a comic performance with moments that are actually extremely sinister when he continually talks down to his daughter. A special mention must go to the less verbose sibling of Matilda, played by Peter Howe. Despite staying true to the sedentary, unresponsive sibling presented by Dahl, the few words he chooses to share with the audience are delivered so perfectly that a single word became enough to render an entire audience struggling to control their laughter. 

However, the star of the show thankfully remains the lead, played by four actresses, and on this occasion by Cleo Demetriou. Not wishing to sound dismissive, her greatest achievement in the role is, as a precocious 11 year old playing an even more precocious 5 year old, to not once come across as in anyway annoying. Instead, along with all the children, Demetriou was incredibly likeable, and strange as it is to say, created an entirely believable little girl who is both utterly brilliant yet very normal, despite her magic power. 

If at any moment you fear yourself pitying the fate of this little girl, Demetriou quickly drew it back to show off Matilda’s fantastic imagination and ingenuity. Her performance of ‘I’m here’ in particular showed a startling acting ability as she fully communicated the pathos of the song. Incidentally, she has a brilliant singing voice. Her solo performances of ‘Naughty’ and ‘Quiet’ were certainly highlights of the show. Yet it is her comic potential that was most impressive, demonstrating superb comic timing, particularly when telling stories that was able to get across the rich and constant wit of Dennis Kelly’s book.

In short, go see it.

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