REVIEW: Matilda (Cambridge Theatre)

Sometimes you have to be a bit naughty. Like when a friend offers you last minute tickets to Matilda on a school night in the run up to Christmas. Having been meaning to take the munchkins for ages, we were as powerless to resist as Bruce Bogtrotter in the presence of a chocolate cake. Thankfully the next morning’s tardy appearance at school was not met by a visit to Chokey and Mummy can only hope that her incredibly belated review will be similarly excused!

As an avid reader from a young age, it’s no surprise that Matilda was one of Mummy’s favourite childhood books. Mrs Mummy was never as much of a reader, but loved the film adaptation. With big boots to fill, the RSC adaptation more than lived up to expectations when we first saw it several years ago. It has since become one of our fast favourites, and the munchkins are well acquainted with the original London cast recording, so we were excited to finally share the show itself with them. And it didn’t disappoint.

After eight years in the West End, Tim Minchin and Dennis Kelly’s hit musical about the pint-size bookworm with magical powers shows no signs of fatigue. It’s a fantastic adaptation of the Roald Dahl classic, which transforms the story into something that works on stage whilst remaining true to the essence of the original. It’s a real love letter to the art of storytelling, which unsurprisingly boasts a strong book and some of the wittiest lyrics you will come across on stage. Even the set itself is made up of words, formed from colourful alphabet blocks which are cleverly incorporated into the spectacular ‘School Song’. Mummy never fails to be astounded by the detail in this number, with the ridiculously impressive lyrics matched by the intricacy of the choreography. It’s not necessarily obvious just how clever the lyrics are on a first listen because, in typical Tim Minchin style, they are extremely wordy. They are, however, deservedly the feature of a full page spread in the programme.

The whole show is jam-packed with brilliant songs in Tim Minchin’s trademark array of styles, ranging from the poignant ‘When I Grow Up‘ to the zany and unexpected Act 2 opener ‘Telly’. And they perfectly convey the combination of humour and pathos in the story about the little girl standing up to mean grown-ups. Marianne Benedict and Roger Dipper (understudying Sebastien Torkia) are fantastic as the dim-witted and self-obsessed Wormwood parents, while Elliot Harper makes a menacing Miss Trunchbull (albeit somewhat less of a loony than others we have seen in the role).

Not all of the adults are awful, with Matilda finding friendship with librarian, Mrs Phelps (Landi Oshinowo) and schoolteacher, Miss Honey. On our first visit to Matilda, we remarked that Gina Beck would make the perfect Miss Honey, so we were thrilled to hear that she had been cast in the role a few years later. It’s taken us a while to actually get round to seeing her in the show, but we can confirm that she was every bit as excellent as expected. She brings an extra depth to the role of the sweet, timid teacher and gives an absolute masterclass in acting through song in ‘My House‘.

But the real stars of the show are, of course, the incredibly talented children, led by Alex Munden as Matilda on the night we saw the show. We really enjoyed Alex’s performance, especially her interactions with Mr and Mrs Wormwood, which showed off a great sense of comic timing. We also loved Tom Brown as Bruce, who almost stole the show in ‘Revolting Children’, despite a temporary show-stop for technical difficulties.

Mummy could go on and on about how brilliant Matilda is but this would probably get quite boring so you should just go and see it for yourselves. After all, as Mr Wormwood would say, why would you want to waste your energy reading about it when you could be “watching people singing, and talking, and doing stuff”?

RATING: Raindrops, Whiskers, Kettles, Mittens & Brown Paper Packages (aka all 5 of my favourite things).

Matilda is booking at the Cambridge Theatre to 20 December 2020.