Matilda the Musical
Royal Shakespeare Company
QPAC Lyric Theatre
December 1 2016 – January 8 2017
Reviewed by Xanthe Coward
Matilda the Musical is hands down the best made and the best promoted show we’ve seen in this country. Not many productions live up to the hype preceding them but this one exceeds expectations. The elements combine in a perfect alchemy of joy, morality, imagination and witty, wicked humour, delighting kids, and daring adults to look around, pay attention to the children and begin to listen again to their own inner child.
Roald Dahl’s Matilda is the extraordinary little girl who, armed with a vivid imagination and a sharp mind, dares to take a stand and change her own destiny.
Queensland’s Matildas are Izellah Connelly, Annabella Cowley, Venice Harris and Eva Murawski.
On opening night we saw Venice Harris, and as the rockstar chocolate-cake-eating Bruce, Exodus Lale, both superb. We will have to return a little later in the season to see our Eva perform! Last night she was on standby and she was able to appear on stage for a very special curtain call with the standby cast, and composer and lyricist, Tim Minchin.
We rarely see a genuinely rapturous, heartfelt standing ovation from an actual full house at QPAC.
(Don’t believe every accolade you see on social media. I’m so often surprised/bemused to see claims of a standing ovation when only a smattering of the audience is on its feet!), but the opening night Matilda audience was as excited and appreciative and awestruck as you’ll ever get at the end of a show.
It’s no secret that opening nights are a special kind of magic but Matilda the Musical is a show with a buzz that makes you feel like every night is opening night. If there’s a person in the world who hasn’t enjoyed it, I’d like to meet them and ask, “WHAT’S YOUR DAMAGE?” There’s nothing to dislike here (except Miss Trunchbull and the Wormwoods and we’re supposed to loathe them). Matilda the Musical is an uplifting, life affirming, incredibly moving experience, and the cast of children a dynamic new breed of Australian talent. (Minchin has said the girls who play the Brisbane Matildas are four of the best, in this extremely demanding role, in the world. High praise indeed!). We recognise them by their tremendous hearts and rich, clipped voices, their explosive energy and their neatly contained egos. There are adults in the industry who can learn from these hard working and humble kids. (Those adults are not in this show!). And the synergy between adult and child performers makes this show extra special. The ensemble’s opening number, the fast-paced, bright and brilliant, memorably cheeky Miracle, followed by Matilda’s Naughty, and the School Song, choreographed and executed with military precision, testament to the extraordinary talent on stage and off.
There are also a number of must-be-something-in-my-eye moments.
One of these moments is the beautifully bittersweet When I Grow Up. This is a smiling-while-tears-are-running-shamelessly-down-cheeks scene, reminiscent of Mary Poppins’ Let’s Go Fly a Kite. The use of a slippery slide and timber seated swings hanging from the gods creates a child-sized whimsical world of wide-eyed possibility. I want a swing hanging from the gods in my backyard! When the “big kids” fly out over the audience we gasp in surprise and delight and abandon – even those of us who have seen it before – and our hearts fill to bursting.
It’s not often that a production succeeds in pouring pure glee over an entire audience.
A fully engaged little kid sitting next to me, so smart, asks his mama if they are sad because they don’t want to grow up. The kid is no older than four or five. Other innocent comments throughout the evening earn smiling, murmured responses from a lovely older gentleman in front and giggles from the rest of us. There’s a little bit of healthy fear happening too. True to the original story, there are some quite frightening moments in the show, just as there are in our dreams and ordinary lives, and the mother does her best to quietly comfort her child. I know parents sometimes avoid taking kids to the theatre because they know it will be their kid to shout out something in the middle of a show. They think this will annoy the other punters and leave themselves embarrassed and apologetic so they decide to give it a miss until the kids are older, and they and the child miss out on an awesome experience and lifelong memories. If you’re a parent wondering whether or not you should take the kids to the show, STOP WONDERING, BOOK THE TICKETS AND TAKE THE KIDS TO THE SHOW.
If the teens and the spouse are slightly wary, they should know Matilda the Musical is also, obviously and subversively, a very grown up show. If nothing else, tell them to hang in there until the final number, the epic kid rock anthem, Revolting Children, which is a showstopper they’ll be singing (and stomping!) for you for days, even weeks. Probably for the next six weeks…of school holidays…lucky you.
The burning woman, hurling through the air with dynamite in her hair, flying over sharks and spiky objects, caught by the man locked in the cage…
The Acrobat and the Escapologist, the story-within-the-story, which has been somehow magically more fully woven through the production since last seen, and which Matilda tells to Mrs Phelps (the fabulous Cle Morgan, a delicious performer of exquisite expression and passion; she shines in this underwritten role). You’ll remember it doesn’t appear in Roald Dahl’s book. The dramatisation of – spoiler alert – Mrs Honey’s parents’ romance, is a neat theatrical device to move us into another realm of storytelling, the segments perfectly placed throughout the show now to allow us to wander through Matilda’s imagination. Her voracious reading and imagining is her escape from a despicable family and horrible home life (loud, brassy, not-real-classy caricatures of the worst possible parents, in Daniel Frederickson & Nadia Komazec in Marika Aubrey’s absence).
There are so many dark themes and dastardly deeds detectable in life, which children need to be able to process just as grown ups do. Roald Dahl knew this, and Minchin and Dennis Kelly make a considered art of serving it straight up, without apology.
Elise McCann is a stronger, more focused and better settled Miss Honey than when we saw her early on in the Sydney season, her rendition of My House poignantly, perfectly delivered, the vocal tone just divine. And the incomparable James Millar, as the formidable Miss Trunchbull, takes the cake (and makes poor Bruce eat it!). Millar’s hilarious, highly physical performance is another highlight. His performance is so polished and so perfectly ridiculous and reasonable at the same time that you might have a hard time now, as I do, listening to the original Trunchbull, the much-loved Brit, Bertie Carvel. Sorry, Bertie.
Can we have an original Australian Cast recording please and thank you.
Hugh Vanstone’s lighting and Rob Howell’s costume and set design transfer spectacularly well to the Lyric Theatre and MD Peter Rutherford’s orchestra is spot on. The only superfluous number for me is Mr Wormwood’s Telly, but others love it.
Matilda the Musical lifts our spirits and raises the musical theatre bar. It’s a show that proves the book, the film and the real life lens we look through every day can be improved upon. YES. The way we view the world is a choice we make every day. And Matilda reminds us that putting things right and standing up for ourselves and for others is easier than we’ve been led to believe.
Don’t even think for a second you can miss it. There is no gift more magical or inspirational you can give yourself and those you love than Matilda the Musical
Brisbane Opening Night Company: