Review of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Matilda the Musical
True story: I watched the gazillion times award-winning Royal Shakespeare Company’s Matilda with my family a few weeks ago and ACTUALLY pulled a muscle from clapping too hard when the curtains came up.
I thankfully, didn’t twist my ankle giving the stellar cast a standing ovation, though.
I don’t think I’ve felt more dizzy with excitement by the end of production, with my heart pumping 150 beats per minute according to my FitBit, not calming down until I’d reached Charing Cross station from Cambridge Theatre.
That’s how exhilarating Matilda the Musical, is.
But back to the beginning of our fun-filled Sunday, and first-up a light pre-theatre lunch at the elegant, art-deco inspired Treadwells in Covent Garden by Marcus Wareing with its Instagrammable orange tree entrance.
The seasonal set theatre menu there (2 courses for £25, 3 for £30) offered up small and delicate but delicious dishes (just don’t turn up ravenous). A formal setting, I noticed families were seated upstairs with the vast windows looking out onto Upper St. Martin’s Lane lighting up an otherwise dark but exquisitely designed interior of olive green and white tiles and mirrors reflecting spot lights.
It wasn’t the first place you might consider with kids as tablecloths adorned the tables and couples appeared to be it majority clientele but it made for the perfect for a treat pre-theatre.
And the food is mostly excellent to boot.
The children gobbled up the homemade sourdough bread, eating mountains of the stuff before plumping for their usual default dish: penne with meatballs (they did note that the pasta was a little overcooked, ‘It’s a bit soggy, Mum’ but raved about the balls) and chips and jars of peas and broccoli topped them up and kept them quiet. There were vegan options aplenty for me with Jersey Royals in a plant-based flavousome salty, wild garlic sauce to start, followed by an ‘off the menu’ vibrant tomato filo pastry tart the waitress recommend I try.
My perfect tarte with vegan mozzarella and fragrant basil!
My husband, Peter, kicked off with char-grilled prawns in a prawn butter sauce he was impressed with before inhaling a tangy, vegan Kohlrabi and Shiitaki cake he loved so much, he wants to recreate it at home. I’m still waiting!
Dessert was a light and fluffy vegan chocolate and coconut mousse for myself and dairy-free Alexander, and Oliver enjoyed a salted caramel soft serve, Peter the intricate gourmet Chouxnut with coffee and marscapone.
Thank you Treadwells.
Without further ado, we were off to the theatre.
Making the short journey by foot from Treadwell to the impressive Cambridge Theatre, we took to our seats, popcorn in hand (the kids were hungry) for the re-imagined adaptation of Roald Dahl’s beloved book.
I feel the greatest resonance with Matilda, more than any of Dahl’s other classics as I shockingly attended a Victorian style private Prep School as a child that was not dissimilar to Miss Trunchbull’s (fellow classmates can attest to that, and I honestly have no idea how the teachers got away with what they did. While there wasn’t a Chokey, most days saw us being pulled out of class by our plaits for speaking too loudly or being forced to eat every single morsel of food at lunch time, even and especially anything that had fallen on to the floor. And there’s more as teachers regularly threw books at children’s heads and one particularly vile member of staff painted children’s faces with PVA glue as punishment. And to think my parents paid for this education.
I first read Matilda, utterly believing it to be biographical.
We later performed the play for the parents (drama was my saviour), I in the role of Miss Honey. It was the most bizarre time of my life….
A bit like my own personal history, this production was complex and layered, as we unflinchingly followed our heroine, Matilda in her determination to firstly attend school at all and learn against her dastardly parents’ wishes and then overcome antagonist Miss Trunchbull’s abusive behaviour towards her and her classmates. On discovering magical, telekenetic powers, Matilda begins to transform her own life and the lives of those around her, even righting a devastating wrong from her beloved teacher, Miss Honey’s past.
A more measured and lengthy production than most we’ve seen on stage (some scenes could have admittedly benefited from editing a little to keep the momentum and pace up), Matilda is a mature undertaking, appealing to both adults and children alike (much like Pixar have achieved so effortlessly with their films), and made me cry three times (yes, I made note of the blubs).
Darker than the book, and film for that matter, younger children watching might find themselves a little lost in the details but Alexander, 6, was captivated throughout. The cake-gobbling marathon, much like the book, made both my kids howl with laughter.
Engaging, dynamic, and interactive thanks to the cast popping up among the audience at several junctures made for special moments as art felt tangible and real, with the child audience gasping at their proximity to the characters.
A powerhouse of an ensemble, the actors offered up believable, funny and passionate performances.
I was shocked to discover the pitch-perfect young actress, Francesca Mckeown, was making her West End debut here as Matilda. Hayden Tee was magnificent as Miss Trunchbull bringing comedic delivery to even the most fearsome of moments. A disturbingly quiet character made Trunchbull all the more sinister but not enough to give the kids nightmares I will add.
Rob Compton and Marianne Benedict as the bonkers parents of Matilda, Mr and Mrs Wormwood brought much-needed light relief to the shade of Ms Trunchbull, with their crazy antics, and highly dysfunctional relationship.
Melinda Parris as the new addition of Librarian, Mrs Phelps, who nurtured the storyteller and dreamer in Matilda, deserves a spin-off production in her name.
…The most memorable scenes in the play focus on a secondary plot-line involving an escapologist and circus acrobat, which paid off in many ways both in the main storyline and visually, exceeding anything I’ve seen to-date in children’s theatre.
A rich and powerful piece of storytelling, Matilda will undoubtedly remain with you long after you leave the theatre, and quite possibly, forever.
Disclosure: The meal and theatre tickets were gifted but as always, my words are honest.
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