When Matilda the Musical was first announced as the Royal Shakespeare Company musical back in 2010, I was in sixth form and very excitedly downloaded the cast recording and added it to my list of shows to see at some point. NINE YEARS later, I finally saw the show at the Bradford Alhambra and it was so worth the wait.
Based on Roald Dahl’s children’s classic (which I read so much it fell apart), Tim Minchin and Dennis Kelly’s Matilda follows Matilda Wormwood (Nicola Turner) who lives with loud and uncaring parents (Sebastian Torkia & Rebecca Thornhill) and escapes from her life through a range of books and stories she acquires from the library. When she starts school, her teacher Miss Honey (Carly Thoms) recognises her gift but the evil Miss Trunchball (Elliot Harper) believes children should be broken and not loved. But that’s not right.
This is a show that unashamedly celebrates love, stories and the need to be a little bit naughty when things aren’t right. Dennis Kelly’s book pulls all the best bits from Dahl’s novel, as well as adding a more detailed subplot showing how Matilda creates stories to escape her reality. Whilst some aspects of the story are ‘grown-up’ they’re handled well enough that the younger members of the audience don’t get bored. Tim Minchin is an excellent lyricist, and there are moments – especially in ‘School Song’ – where this is expertly on show. He also captures moments of real warmth, ‘When I Grow Up’ is a cute listen but I found it really moving on stage and the songs that circle the story of The Escapologist and Acrobat are excellent.
The story is also kept timeless thanks to Rob Howell’s steampunk-esque set designs and costumes which feel entirely in-keeping with Quentin Blake’s famous illustrations of the Dahl’s novels. The show is also expertly choreographed by Peter Darling; whilst it takes a little while to get used to the choreography – it becomes so seamless.
The role of Matilda is a big one for a child, and at the performance I saw she was played by Nicola Turner. Despite being tiny – Turner was a fantastic Matilda. She was funny but also really captured Matilda’s emotional turmoil. She was a little star and I’m sure has a bright future ahead of her.
She is ably supported by Elliot Harper as Miss Trunchball, who manages to be hilariously funny as well as suitably menacing and Carly Thoms brings a sense of warmth to Miss Honey.
There’s a reason Matilda has been running for almost a decade in the West End and I’m so glad I finally saw it. If the tour is coming to a town near you, I highly recommend it. With or without kids.